x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Crowd violence halts Serbia-Italy football qualifier

Serbia fans threw flares on the field and set off fireworks, prompting referees to stop play just seven minutes after the European Championship match had begun.

GENOA, ITALY // Serbia's European Championship qualifier at Italy has been stopped after seven minutes of play due to Serbia fans throwing flares onto the field and lighting fireworks. 

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 referee Craig Thomson of Scotland stopped the match. It was unclear whether the game would resume. 

The start had been delayed for 45 minutes due to visiting fans throwing flares onto the field and lighting fireworks.

The teams came out and began to line up for the national anthems but then were sent back to the locker rooms as police in riot gear came out to confront spectators. A few fans with their heads covered climbed up onto a partition, took out tools and began cutting through a mesh fence. Glass partitions were broken.

Eventually the teams came back out and Serbia fans whistled and booed throughout their national anthem, but the game began.

At one point, Serbian players walked over to their fans. "We didn't applaud, we calmed down the fans," Serbia captain Dejan Stankovic told RAI. Serbia fans also clashed with police earlier in the day. Even before the delay, Serbia goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic asked not to play following threats outside his hotel, according to the ANSA news agency. 

Serbia lost 3-1 at home to Estonia on Friday. That match marked the debut of new coach Vladimir Petrovic, who was hired when Radomir Antic was fired following a 1-1 draw at home with Slovenia last month. Serbia had a disappointing first-round exit from the World Cup.

* Associated Press