Unruly Serbian fans mar Euro qualifier

The Italy-Serbia European Championship qualifier was called off after seven minutes of play on Tuesday after Serbia fans threw flares and fireworks onto the pitch.

Italy likely to be awarded victory

The European Championship qualifier between Italy and Serbia was called off seven minutes into Tuesday's game after violent Serb fans threw flares and fireworks onto the pitch, burned a flag and broke barriers in an apparent premeditated protest.

Serbia fans also clashed with police earlier in the day and delayed the start of the match for 45 minutes. When the game finally began, more flares and fireworks were thrown onto the field and Scottish referee Craig Thomson stopped the match at 0-0.

Clashes continued for hours outside the Luigi Ferraris stadium after the match was called off.

Italy may now be awarded a 3-0 victory by default.

"The referee felt that the players' security couldn't be assured. Now it's up to UEFA and their disciplinary procedures," Italian football federation general secretary Antonello Valentini said.

UEFA spokesman Rob Faulkner told The Associated Press in a text message that when a match is abandoned for safety reasons the normal procedure is to use the referee and match delegate's report to open a case before its control and disciplinary panel.

In 2007, the control and disciplinary awarded Sweden a 3-0 default win over Denmark in a similar case.

Tomislav Karadzic, the president of the Serbia football federation, said the protest was likely organized back in Belgrade.

"It's an attack on the state and the state has to resolve this problem," he was quoted as saying by Serbian media.

Italy security director Roberto Massucci was upset that the Serbian police didn't warn of the danger from their fans.

"Fans this dangerous shouldn't have arrived in Genoa," Massucci said. "Due to experience we were prepared but we never imagined such a high level of aggressiveness."

Italy goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano said it would have been impossible to play in the goal in front of the Serbia fans.

"I would have had to constantly turn around to avoid the fireworks," he said. "It wouldn't have been nice to get hit in the head."

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.

Before the scheduled kickoff, a few fans with their heads covered climbed up onto a partition, took out tools and began cutting through a mesh fence. Plexiglass partitions were also broken, while another fan burned what appeared to be an Albanian flag.

The players retreated to the dressing rooms while police dressed in riot gear confronted the fans, but even when the teams returned, the trouble in the stands continued, and Serbia's fans whistled and booed throughout their national anthem.

Earlier in the day, Serbia's first-choice goalkeeper, Vladimir Stojkovic, was hit by a flare thrown toward the team bus and taken to a local hospital, according to the ANSA news agency.

Stojkovic upset some Red Star Belgrade fans by moving to the club's fierce rival Partizan in the off-season.

When the game started, Stojkovic's replacement, Zeljko Brkic, was nearly hit by one of the flares thrown onto the pitch.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said he found Stojkovic trembling in the Azzurri changing room when his squad reached the stadium.

"We couldn't understand why, then the interpreter explained it to us," Prandelli said. "He was threatened and feared for his safety. Right then and there we realized that the game was at risk. Every [Serb] player knew that their fans were organized to suspend the game."

Italy midfielder Angelo Palombo said: "This isn't football, it's pure delinquency," adding that Serbia captain Dejan Stankovic came into the Azzurri's changing room to apologize after the game was abandoned.

At one point during the delay, the Serbia squad walked over and appeared to applaud their fans ironically and ask them to calm down.

"We didn't applaud, we calmed down the fans," Stankovic told RAI state TV on the pitch.

The match was meant to be played in memory of four Italian soldiers killed in Afghanistan on Saturday. Several fan banners around the stadium paid tribute to the soldiers and Italy wore black armbands.

"It's a real big disappointment, because there were a lot of kids in the stadium with their families ready to watch a great game," Prandelli said.