Albania captain: Steward hit me

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Published: Thursday 16th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Albania captain Lorik Cana has backed up the Albania Football Association’s claim that players were assaulted by fans and stewards at the now-infamous Euro 2016 qualifier against Serbia which was abandoned amid violent scenes.

UEFA has charged both countries with a number of offences following the game, which saw a melee erupt on the pitch after a mini unmanned drone trailed a pro-Albania flag over the stadium.

Serbia have claimed the incident had been a “scenario of a terrorist action planned in advance”, but the Albania FA hit back saying the team were targeted even before the game when stones were thrown at the bus, and its delegation and players were hit by a piece of concrete and other missiles during the warm-up.

The governing body also claimed that players were attacked by police and, while Cana admitted he had not seen that happen, he did claim to be attacked by stewards.

“I got hit twice on the pitch by a steward, some of my team-mates as well,” he told BBC Radio Five Live.

“And after, when we were trying to reach the tunnel, that was I think the most dangerous part because they (fans) were throwing everything on us – stones, batteries and everything (was) very, very dangerous.

“Some of my team-mates were hurt on the face, on the back. Some of us were kicked by some fans coming in and in that moment, in that tunnel, it was a kind of chaos.”

The melee began after a Serbian player hauled down the flag from the drone and English referee Martin Atkinson took the players off the pitch. Albania then refused to consider returning even if the stadium was cleared of fans.

Both countries are likely to be handed heavy fines and other sanctions, including possible points deductions, when UEFA’s disciplinary body hears the case on October 23.

Albania face forfeiting the match and Serbia playing future games behind closed doors but UEFA is not expected to expel the countries from the competition.

When asked if he would support Serbia’s expulsion from the qualifiers, Cana replied: “That is not what we want,” stressing that players should not be punished over the actions of pitch invaders who he labelled as “criminals”.

UEFA president Michel Platini has described as “inexcusable” the incidents which followed the drone trailing a flag of a Greater Albania banner – which incorporates parts of various other countries including Kosovo – over the the Partizan Stadium pitch.

Neither country had requested they be kept apart in the draw, and nor did the other main criteria which also persuades UEFA to keep them separate – being involved in an armed conflict and not having diplomatic relations – apply.

Albanian supporters had been banned from entering the stadium by UEFA on safety grounds and the match was set against a backdrop of tight security.

The Serbian FA has claimed its team acted with restraint despite being provoked by the “offensive” flag and were then attacked when they tried to remove it from the field.

The region has long been rife with political angst and Cana is disappointed that politics took centre stage, citing football as a way of bringing people together.

“During the moment we were just doing our duty perfectly well,” he said.

“Even before the game I was reading what (Serbia captain Branislav) Ivanovic was saying, he was absolutely amazing. We were trying to do exactly the same thing on my side.

“Everything was going well, we were just playing a football game. It’s a way to approach and to make a union of peoples. We are neighbours so that’s exactly the point and that’s exactly how it started.

“We were just playing a normal game. We were playing football. I’m not blaming anyone.

“The thing is, when you know it’s a game of this kind of tension, and when it’s in kind of fear about something (that) can happen, you have to be well organised in any case.

“I can understand that the flag episode can maybe make them angry or something like that but i don’t think that’s reason enough to invade the pitch.”

Published: Thursday 16th October 2014 by The News Editor

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