Italy vs Serbia abandoned after crowd trouble

GENOA - Italy's Euro 2012 qualifier against Serbia was abandoned on Tuesday with six minutes played after visiting fans threw flares on to the pitch and at rival supporters in a new bout of Serbian football violence.

Serbia fans had already thrown a flare on to their own team bus and abused goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic, who subsequently pulled out of the team before kick-off, in an attack Serbian media reports said was related to domestic club rivalry.

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European football's governing body UEFA will now decide what action to take with a 3-0 win awarded to group leaders Italy the most likely scenario and further punishments possible for Serbia.

"We will not ask for anything. It's up to the UEFA delegate to talk with UEFA to decide what to do," Italian football federation vice president and former Italy midfielder Demetrio Albertini told Reuters.

After the match a massive police operation designed to keep Serbian fans away from the city centre appeared successful, according to Reuters witnesses.

However, Italian media reported that 13 people were injured in clashes between police and Serbian fans who were kept in a fenced off area in the stadium car park.

Kick-off in the Group C match was delayed for 35 minutes due to crowd trouble and only six minutes had been played when two flares were thrown on to the pitch and the match was suspended.

Serbian FA president Tomislav Karadzic told Belgrade's B92 television the incidents were shameful.

"The whole of Europe saw the disgrace and shame brought upon Serbia by fans who have kept us under siege in our hotel for two days," he said.

One flare was aimed towards Italy goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano before Serbian fans then threw another into the Italian end which hit some supporters without causing serious injury.

Scottish referee Craig Thomson took the players off the pitch and the game was eventually abandoned after discussions between all parties.

"It's a great disappointment, there's great bitterness," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli told a news conference.

"The ground was full of children with so much enthusiasm."

Prandelli said a perplexed Stojkovic had been inside Italy's dressing room before kickoff to explain his withdrawal and seek sanctuary.

"According to the Serbians we have spoken to, the aim of the Serbian fans was to stop the match," he said.

Serbian media said the attack on Stojkovic had apparently been part of a coordinated campaign.

Stojkovic, a former Red Star player, has been targeted by his former club's fans since he joined city rivals Partizan on loan.


Stadium officials confirmed a flare had been thrown inside the Serbian team bus before kickoff while there was anger at how away fans had been able to bring so many flares into the ground despite heavy checks from stewards for a tense encounter.

The sides are the two most high-profile in the group while both nations have suffered severe hooligan problems in recent years, with Italian football recently managing to control their violence problem better than in Serbia.

The players originally came out on to the pitch for the 18:50 GMT kick-off but quickly returned to the dressing rooms after police and stewards tried to calm the Serbia fans in one corner as Italian supporters chanted obscenities at them.

Serbia players returned to the pitch after half an hour and talked to their fans with captain and Inter Milan midfielder Dejan Stankovic visibly annoyed, knocking away a microphone as a reporter tried to talk to him.

The game finally kicked off after Italian fans had booed the Serbian anthem and the referee presided over an extremely short "minute" of applause for four Italian soldiers recently killed in Afghanistan.

The presence of some 30 police in riot gear on the touchline and the netted cage surrounding the Serbia fans looked exaggerated to Italy supporters who queried whether it might inflame the situation although they did not know what had gone on before kick-off.

The first hint that Stojkovic was not playing was when Zeljko Brkic was named on the official team sheet as the goalkeeper.

Serbia surprisingly lost 3-1 at home to Estonia on Friday to hurt their qualification hopes.