Serbia could pay heavy price for violence

BELGRADE - Serbian hooligans were widely condemned on Wednesday as UEFA began an investigation that could lead to the Balkan country being kicked out of football.

Violence has marred Serbian football for two decades and Tuesday's scenes in Genoa where visiting fans launched flares at Italy supporters and tried to cause a riot have cast doubt over Serbia's future in the Euro 2012 qualifiers.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini condemned the trouble.

Platini's remarks were particularly poignant as he was a Juventus player in the 1985 European Cup final on the night of the Heysel Stadium disaster in Brussels when rioting Liverpool fans caused the deaths of 39 Italian supporters.

"I was shocked by the images of yesterday's Italy-Serbia match," Platini said in a statement.

"I have too many bad memories associated with violence in football. I am awaiting the results of the investigation and the decisions of the disciplinary bodies and I remind everyone that UEFA has a zero tolerance policy towards violence in stadia."

"The collaboration of the authorities is key to combating this scourge and I will request help from the highest level on those countries most affected."

Blatter, in Downing Street to meet British Prime Minister David Cameron and discuss England's 2018 World Cup bid, praised England for ridding its game of hooligans and building modern all-seater stadiums.

"If this had been the case in Italy you would not have had the problems yesterday at the Italy v Serbia match in Genoa," Blatter said.


UEFA issued a statement saying it had opened a "full and thorough disciplinary investigation into the incidents of serious disorder" at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.

UEFA's Control and Disciplinary Body has several sanctions available, ranging from a large fine to disqualification from competitions in progress and/or exclusion from future competitions.

Group C leaders Italy, set to refund their fans at the game, are likely to be awarded a 3-0 walkover win.

The Serbian FA has called an emergency executive board meeting for Friday but few senior football figures in the country would be surprised if UEFA hands down a severe punishment at its hearing on October 28.

The match was abandoned after six minutes when flares landed near players on the pitch. The start had been delayed by 35 minutes because of crowd disorder and there were clashes outside the ground with police late into the night.


Serbia's goalkeeper was abused before the match by his own fans and a flare was hurled into the team bus.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said he feared a major tragedy and former Serbia striker Savo Milosevic, the country's most capped international with 102 appearances, said it was already the end of the road for the team as far as Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine was concerned.

"This is one of the darkest days in the history of Serbia's football and the punishment is likely to be so drastic that the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign is as good as over for us," he told B92 television.

"The government has been completely disinterested in sports and its problems over the last 20 years, hence Serbia is now paying a heavy price for the failure to tackle hooliganism swiftly and decisively," he said.

With the stadium violence resulting in at least 17 arrests in Italy, including the ringleader who was identified because of his tattoos, Serbia are unlikely to get away with a hefty fine.

Violence by Serbian fans has plagued domestic football for 20 years but had not previously been exported on such a large scale. A new visa-free travel agreement with most EU countries means more supporters can travel.


Serbian police said they had arrested five fans upon their arrival home.

"First we have to see how the issue will end in Italy and what offences they will be charged with, to determine whether we have legal grounds to press the same charges in Serbia," Interior Minister Ivica Dacic told Belgrade's Beta news agency.

"Police here will investigate how these people were able to buy match tickets," he said.

Italian authorities, battling their own hooligan problem and alarmed that fans continually bring banned flares into stadiums, were also looking into the Genoa ticketing issue amid speculation UEFA could also sanction.

"We have spotted problems in the information systems between Italy and Serbia," Roberto Massucci, a member of Italy's anti-hooligan body, told a Rome news conference.

"We weren't given any warning that there were risks with the Serbia fans."