Serbs bring darkness to Genoa (again)

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Genoa doesn’t have a great record for public disorder. There was the stabbing of a Genoa fan by an AC Milan ultra in 1995, the infamous G8 clashes in 2001 – and now nothing short of co-ordinated mob rule.

Let's be clear. Last night, the Marassi stadium came under the control of Serbian nationalist ultras. In effect they held hostage all those inside and around the ground, including the forces of law and order, who seemed completely powerless in the face of such an onslaught of anti-social behaviour. "The Beasts", screamed La Gazzetta dello Sport with an unnerving image of a balaclava-clad ultra leering over the fence to give the world the short-arm salute.

The same black T-shirted, heavily-tattooed bogeyman was splashed across the Corriere dello Sport over the headline "We surrender to you!" His tattoos were to give him away when he was identified boarding a supporters’ bus much later and subsequently arrested.

There was no escaping who the culprits were, with Tuttosport calling the events "The shame of Serbia." Evidence suggests this isn’t sport, but another darker agenda tied up with the region's politics.

There had been rising tensions all day as Serbians fought with police outside the stadium and generally rampaged around the city in a well-organised paramilitary operation. The aim was pretty clear – the match would not go ahead and the local police were incapable of snuffing out the trouble at source even though the Serbia Football Federation claimed that they had warned authorities of such a possible outcome.

The troublemakers were obviously well aware that the police would corral them and their paraphernalia to riot inside the ground rather than make mass arrests, lending inevitably toward the depressing conclusion of postponement.

That the match even went ahead beggars belief. Well before kick-off, the fire service were forced to extinguish burning flares. As the ground filled, objects rained on to the pitch at regular intervals. TV footage clearly showed the invaders cutting away the protective netting to clear the way for the inevitable bombardment of flares.

The players were barely able to warm up, and the compact nature of the Marassi was always going to leave the goalkeepers exposed to whatever objects were thrown in their direction – as was the case with Azzurri goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano.

Even with kick-off delayed by 35 minutes, the Serbian players showed little desire to take to the pitch – unsurprising, given reports that goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic was threatened not only on the team bus but also near the dressing room area. Dejan Stankovic led the visiting team out but the Inter man looked ashen-faced as he held the team pennant to his face to whisper to the opposition that all was not obviously well.

But the situation had clearly reached tilting point well before the national anthems were roundly booed and the minute’s silence for the death of Italian soldiers in Afghanistan was cut short. The rioters wouldn't be stopped no matter what their team tried, be it "ironic" applauding or raising three fingers to indicate that they could forfeit the match to a 3-0 defeat – which, despite Serbia's official apology to Italy, will probably be the case.