serbian-fans-ap-101012

Serbia fans climb onto a partition to throw a flare prior to the start of a Group C, Euro 2012 qualifying soccer match between Italy and Serbia, at the Luigi Ferraris stadium on Tuesday.

Police have detained 17 people including the alleged ringleader of rioting at the Italy-Serbia soccer game, as UEFA warned that sanctions could be as serious as disqualification from the European Championship or exclusion from future competitions.

Tuesday's match in Genoa was abandoned after seven minutes when Serbia fans threw flares and fireworks onto the pitch, burned a flag and broke barriers. Violent clashes continued through the night, and 16 people, including two policemen, were injured.

UEFA opened an investigation Wednesday and its disciplinary panel will hear the case Oct. 28.

Police found the alleged instigator of the rioting in the trunk of a bus that was due to take the Serbian fans home from the Euro 2012 qualifier. While his face was covered by a mask during the violence, police identified him by his tattooed arms and found explosive material with him.

Of the 17 people detained, 16 were Serbian fans and one was Italian, Genoa police official Sebastiano Salvo told The Associated Press.

Salvo identified the ringleader as 30-year-old Ivan Bogdanov, who climbed onto a barrier separating fans from the pitch, used a wire cutter to slice apart a mesh fence and launched fireworks onto the pitch.

Bogdanov didn't say anything when he was arrested and was being held in a Genoa jail under accusations of causing violence and damage and resisting arrest, Salvo said, adding that 600 pieces of fireworks and explosives were found in four bags inside the bus holding Serbian fans.

Serbian media reported that Bogdanov has a criminal record, including drug possession. He leads one of the most notorious Red Star Belgrade fan groups.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli was a Juventus player during the Heysel tragedy 25 years ago — when 39 fans died when they tried to flee a rush by hooligans at the European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus in Belgium — and he said he feared for a repeat.

"When I saw the ultra fans try to break the glass barrier and the scared fans running away I was really afraid," Prandelli said. "In situations like that it doesn't take much to transform it into a tragedy."

Hours before the match, a flare was thrown at Serbia's first-choice goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic inside the team bus, and Italy's squad found him trembling inside the Azzurri changing room when it arrived at Luigi Ferraris Stadium.

Stojkovic upset some Red Star Belgrade fans by moving to the club's fierce rival Partizan in the off-season. He did not start the match, with Zeljko Brkic starting in goal instead.

Serbian police said they will "take measures" against the rioters, adding they were aware of their identities and that they will be "prosecuted" in Serbia.

Tomislav Karadzic, head of Serbia's football association, said on his return to Belgrade that he believes the rioting was premeditated and apparently organized from Belgrade. He said "these guys did not go there by themselves."

The association said it will meet to discuss the incident as it braces itself for tough sanctions from UEFA.

UEFA will examine reports from its delegate in Genoa, David Petriashvili of Georgia, and match referee Craig Thomson from Scotland before issuing a verdict.

In 2007, the control and disciplinary body awarded Sweden a 3-0 default win over Denmark in a similar case. Two years earlier, Inter Milan was ordered to play four games without fans and its rival AC Milan awarded a 3-0 win after their derby game was suspended when a flare thrown from the stands hit Milan goalkeeper Dida.

Also Wednesday, Italy Foreign Minister Franco Frattini addressed the violence with his Serbia counterpart, Vuk Jeremic.

A statement from the foreign ministry said Frattini expressed strong disappointment and related the indignation of the Italian people for the "very serious and unacceptable" incidents.

Jeremic offered an official apology, adding that Serbia recognizes Italy as one of its biggest supporters to enter the European Union, and that his government won't hesitate to adopt radical measures against thde hooligans.

Serbia sports ministry official Slavisa Zlatanovic said losing Euro qualifier points "won't be the worst that could happen ... We could also be expelled from the competition, or ordered to play our games at empty stadiums."

Serbian officials said the fans belong to the same far-right groups that clashed with police in Belgrade last Sunday while trying to disrupt a gay pride parade, leaving more than 150 people injured and most of the downtown destroyed.

Serbia's constitutional Court is scheduled Wednesday to start discussions on a public prosecutor's demand to ban 14 fan groups mostly belonging to Red Star and Partizan Belgrade clubs.

Serbia fans also clashed with police before Tuesday's match and delayed the start of the game for 45 minutes. When the match finally began, more flares and fireworks were thrown onto the field and referee Thomson stopped the match at 0-0.

At one point during the delay, Italy asked the Serbia team to walk over and try to calm down their fans. The Serbia players did so by applauding in an apparent ironic manner and held three fingers aloft in the traditional Serb victory sign.

"I don't know what gestures they made but they were clearly worried," Prandelli said. "The Serb players were under siege. They have homes and families and will have to return and they're afraid. ... Football shouldn't fear these ultra fans, prevention is the best response."

Serbia has faced increased criticism at home after losing 3-1 at home to Estonia on Friday. That match marked the debut of new coach Vladimir Petrovic, who was called in when Radomir Antic was fired following a 1-1 draw at home with Slovenia last month, which only added to a crisis that began with a disappointing first-round exit from the World Cup.

The Italian football federation said it was evaluating ticket refunds for Italian fans who attended the match.