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Serbia vs Albania. European Championship Qualifying Group I.

Stadion Crvena Zvezda.

Match abandoned due to a disturbance on the pitch

European Qualifiers: Brawl at Serbia v Albania match after drone-cam stops play

Serbia's defender Stefan Mitrovic grabs a flag with Albanian national symbols flown by a remotely operated drone
Image: Serbia defender Stefan Mitrovic grabs a flag flown by the remotely-operated drone

The European Qualifier between Serbia and Albania was abandoned in the first half following an extraordinary incident involving a drone-cam which resulted in a brawl between players from both sides.

The Group I game in Belgrade was interrupted when a banner displaying pro-Albanian symbols was flown over the terraces and pitch by what appeared to be a drone-cam.

Serbia defender Stefan Mitrovic eventually grabbed the banner - which is hugely inflammatory in the Balkans - prompting a melee involving numerous players.

A drone flying over the pitch with the Albanian flag on a map of Kosovo sparked a brawl between the two teams

Riot police then moved in when around a dozen fans invaded the pitch, trying to attack the Albanians, and the players were ordered off by Premier League referee Martin Atkinson.

After a delay of around 30 minutes the match was abandoned.

It was the first time Albania have played in Serbia since 1967, and away fans were banned from attending what was already a hugely charged match.

Image: The match was abandoned with the scoreline goalless

The match was locked at 0-0 when it was called off. Chelsea defender and Serbia captain Branislav Ivanovic said his team wanted to carry on playing, and that the decision to stop the match was ultimately taken by the Albanians.

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"What happened is something we can't comprehend at the moment," he said. "On behalf of my team, all I can say is that we wanted to carry on and that we shielded the Albanian players every step of the way to the tunnel (after the riot broke out).

Serbia's and Albania players scuffle over a flag with Albanian national symbols pulled down by Serbia's defender Stefan Mitrovic (3rd R) from a drone
Image: Serbia and Albania players scuffle over the flag

"The Albanian team said they were unfit physically and mentally to carry on after talking to the officials and they will now decide the fate of this match. We can only regret that football took a back seat but it is difficult to draw any conclusions or make any comments now."

UEFA match delegate Harry Been said: "It is a regretful situation on which we will report; the referee, myself and the security advisor. The circumstances were such that we couldn't continue the match.         

"You all saw what happened and I cannot comment on who is to blame or what to blame. I will submit a report with my colleagues to UEFA and UEFA will decide what will happen further."

The match was held against a backdrop of simmering Serb-Albanian tensions over Kosovo, a majority-Albanian former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008.

UEFA match delegate Harry Been reveals what will happen next after the Serbia-Albania abandonment

The banner reportedly displayed an Albanian flag and a map of so-called 'Greater Albania,' an area that comprises territory within today's Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and northern Greece.

The banner also portrayed two Albanian nationalist leaders - Ismail Qemali, who declared Albania's independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912 and Isa Boletini, an Albanian fighter against the Turks.

NATO waged a 78-day air war in 1999 to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo by Serbian forces fighting a two-year counter-insurgency war. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as independent.

Later on Tuesday evening, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, on his Twitter page, congratulated Albanian players for their courage before the match was abandoned and added that he was "sorry for the neighbours who left a bad worldwide image with the ugly show."

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