A skirmish between Serbian and Albanian players breaks out on the pitch during the Euro 2016 Group I qualifying match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade, Serbia (Photo: AP)
The Serbian FA (FSS) blamed their Albanian rivals for incidents which forced Tuesday's Euro 2016 qualifier to be abandoned but will press for several dozen home fans who invaded the pitch to be charged, the governing body said.
The politically-sensitive Group I match was halted in the first half when a flag of so-called Greater Albania attached to a remote-controlled drone hovered over Partizan Belgrade's stadium before being grabbed by Serbia defender Stefan Mitrovic.
"It was a well-planned political diversion and, at the end of the day, it was the key factor which led to the match being abandoned,” the FSS said in a statement on Wednesday.
“All Mitrovic wanted to do was remove the flag so that the match could continue but the Albanian players attacked him. We also wish to point out that the home Serbia fans displayed no offensive banners at any point in time.
“However, there is no excuse for the pitch invasion by some individuals and after reviewing the footage the FSS will press charges against the offenders.”
A brawl between rival players broke out after several Albanian players snatched the flag from Mitrovic and then had to run for cover into the tunnel as the invading home fans attacked them while those on the terraces hurled flares.
After a delay of about half an hour, English referee Martin Atkinson abandoned the game, which stood at 0-0 in the 41st minute. Albania fans had been banned from attending the match.
Serbian media, and the country's foreign minister, put the blame on the brother of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, with some media reporting that he had been arrested in the VIP stands of the stadium with the remote control in his hands.
Olsi Rama, who is a U.S. citizen, arrived in the Albanian capital Tirana on the Albania team plane and told Reuters he had been "taken aside" by Serbian police during the melee but not arrested.
"I've never used a drone in my life, only bought my son a toy helicopter," he said.
On Wednesday, an Albanian fan group calling itself "The Smugglers" posted pictures on Facebook of a group of men posing with what appeared to be an identical drone, known as a quad-copter.
Under the caption "Deeds, not just words," one of the men, identified as Agron Sadiku, wrote: "This was not my idea, but that of my uncle's son, Egzon Feri. We never believed it would be done so successfully. I am very happy about it."
The credibility of the claim of responsibility was unclear but the stunt has further soured relations between the countries that hit their lowest point in the 1990s war in the former Serbian province of Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians are the majority.
The FSS slammed the Albania players and officials and accused them of being "accomplices to a plan whose sole aim was to force the game to be abandoned.
“The incident itself and the behavior of the Albanian players, coach and staff leaves no room for doubt that they were part of a synchronized plan to stop the match,” the FSS said.
Likewise, it is also scandalous that Albanians are gloating on social networks over a ‘job well done’ by individuals boasting of smuggling the drone into Belgrade.
“It is insulting not just to the FSS and the Serbian people but do we dare say to UEFA too.”
Match delegate Harry Been of the Netherlands said after the incidents that referee Atkinson, the security advisor and himself would submit a report to UEFA for European soccer's governing body to take further action.
“The circumstances were such that we couldn’t continue the match,” Been said. "You all saw what happened and I cannot comment on who is to blame or what to blame.
"I will submit a report with my colleagues to UEFA and UEFA will decide what will happen further."
UEFA said on its website (www.uefa.com) on Tuesday that the circumstances surrounding the abandonment of the match will be reported to the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body.
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