Football: Serbia, Albania poised to learn UEFA punishment

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European football's governing body UEFA was Thursday poised to begin a closed-door disciplinary hearing over the violence which halted last week's Euro 2016 qualifier between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade.

UEFA's nine-member disciplinary panel was expected to hand down punishments for the two countries, as Belgrade and Tirana trade blame for the matchday trouble which fed into long-running political tensions.

The hearing was due to begin around 2:00 pm (1200 GMT), UEFA said, with the hotly-awaited penalties set to be announced on Friday.

Potential sanctions range from fines and partial closures of stadia, through to blanket bans on supporters for one or more matches and barring the nations from tournaments outright.

Serbia could be deemed responsible for organisational failings at the October 14 game in Belgrade, notably since home fans invaded the pitch to attack Albanian players.

Albania, meanwhile, are likely to have to answer for their refusal to carry on playing, despite what Serbia's Football Federation claims was a UEFA recommendation to continue.

In addition, they are in the spotlight over a drone that flew over the pitch bearing a flag with a map of 'Greater Albania', a nationalist project aimed at gathering all Albanian communities in the Balkans into one state.

Serbia claim that the flag sparked fury among the home crowd, charging that the incident was intentionally provocative, and want the qualifier to be registered as a 3-0 victory in their favour.

-Pelted with stones -

Albania have in turn called for a full and independent probe of incidents both before, during and after the match, which was abandoned in the 41st minute with the score at 0-0.

They say their squad's bus was pelted with stones while heading to the Partizan stadium, and that concrete, stones, coins and cigarette lighters were hurled at their players and officials ahead of and after kick-off.

Albania deny that they refused to continue playing, and that it was simply impossible to go on as the violence spiralled, while their players were beaten with fists and chains, while Serbia fans chanted "Death to Albanians!" and "Kill Albanians!"

No representative from either of the two football federations was due at Thursday's hearing.

UEFA said that was standard procedure for its disciplinary committee and that federation representatives usually only attend appeal hearings.

The committee's chairman is Thomas Partl of Austria, whose three deputies are Jacques Antenen of Switzerland, Hungarian Sandor Berzi and Jim Stjerne Hansen of Denmark.

The remaining members are Andorra's Tomas Gea, Hans Lorenz of Germany, Czech Republic's Rudolf Repka, James Shaw of Northern Ireland and Luxembourg's Joel Wolff.

The stadium violence was followed by rising nationalist tensions, with hooligans attacking several ethnic-Albanian-owned shops in Serbia.

Relations between Serbs and Albanians are often hostile, due to historical and recent disputes which are stoked by politicians on both sides.

A major flashpoint has been Kosovo, the former Serbian province mostly populated by ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 after almost a decade under United Nations control, imposed after a NATO bombing campaign to halt a Serbian crackdown on separatists there.

Kosovo play friendly matches but is not allowed to take part in international competitions, and several footballers with Kosovar roots have opted to play for Albania.


© 2014 AFP

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