We often deride FIFA/UEFA-mandated international breaks for their lack of excitement, but what we got in today's Serbia vs. Albania match in Belgrade is not exactly the way we'd want that situation remedied.
Branislav Ivanovic (captain) and Nemanja Matic both started for the home side in what was always expected to be a highly charged affair both politically and emotionally. To try to head off any crowd trouble, UEFA had barred Albanian fans from attending this match; vice-versa, Serbian fans will be barred from attending the reverse fixture in Albania next year. But where there is a will, there is a way - especially nowadays, when all you need is a cheap drone to make your voices heard.
The black flag with the coat of arms of Albania and words speaking to the independence of Kosovo was eventually pulled down off the drone by Serbia's Stefan Mitrovic. Albanian players took exception to this and fisticuffs broke out. Benches cleared. Some Serbian fans ran onto the pitch while others were throwing flares and other assorted items, some of which were aimed at fleeing Albanian players. All that led to referee Martin Atkinson suspending the match in the 42nd minute with the score still 0-0.
There had been hope that the match would resume after emotions subsided a bit, but while the referees and the UEFA delegates apparently agreed to proceed -- and the Serbian substitutes and technical staff had even come back out onto the pitch -- the visitors balked at the idea of playing in front of a packed house of hostile fans on edge. Better safe than sorry, I suppose.
At this time, it is unclear what's next, if the match will be resumed, replayed, forfeited either way, or what sanctions may be imposed on either side. The match was officially abandoned about an hour after the fight broke out; UEFA's only official communication since then has been that "more information will follow."