x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Italy's duty is to make life tough for Serbiain Euro 2012 qualifier

Italy have little to play for in Belgrade, where no Italy fans have tickets.

It should be a return match with a grudge. Yet, given Italy's circumstances as they travel to Belgrade to meet Serbia tomorrow, it could easily turn into a red-carpet night for the chief villains so far in the qualifying tournament for Euro 2012.

A year ago, when Serbia visited Genoa to play Italy in Group C, crowd trouble, started by visiting Serbs, caused the abandonment of the match after seven minutes. Among the alarming events were scuffles with police, and threats against Vladimir Stojkovic, the Serbia goalkeeper, delivered face to face on the team bus by ultras from the Balkans.

The Italian Federation was punished by Uefa with a €100,000 (Dh485,000) fine for failing to keep order. The match itself was forfeited by the team deemed to bear most responsibility - Serbia, rightly - for the disorder. Italy were granted a 3-0 win, three points that counted towards securing, early, their place at the top of the group and qualification for the finals.

That means Italy have little to play for in Belgrade, where no Italy fans have tickets. Serbia, second in the group, would guarantee themselves runners-up spot with a win, and, with that, at least a berth in the Euro 2012 play-offs. But the Italians have a duty to play to their utmost.

If Italy merely fold, three other Group C teams - Slovenia, Estonia and Northern Ireland might still reach second place if Serbia lose - will be left recalling the Genoa fallout with resentment.

The balance of the group was altered that abandoned night, possibly at Serbia's expense.