Albania FA angry at Serbia accusation, defends use of drone to fly flag
In a lengthy statement released Thursday, the Albanian FA fired back at Serbia over the claims that Albanians were at fault for the drone incident that ended Tuesday's match and defended the use of the drone.
The teams' Euro 2016 qualifier was interrupted after a drone carrying the Albanian flag, with additional provocative insignia referencing the country's independence movement early in the 20th century, was flown over the stadium in Belgrade during the 41st minute.
Serbia's Stefan Mitrovic grabbed the flag, leading to a scuffle with Albanian players that saw fans and police enter the field. The teams eventually left the pitch, and the match was abandoned after a 30-minute delay.
In an initial statement, Albania accused Serbian fans and police of violent behavior and throwing objects at Albanian fans, players and officials well before the drone appeared. The FA also claimed the crowd used racist chants.
Serbia accused Olsi Rama, the brother of the Albanian prime minister, of piloting the drone. Rama denied involvement.
Albania responded Thursday, saying its team was "emotionally shaken and psychologically distraught" by the Serbians' violence and condemning the Serbian media for blaming Rama.
The statement also defended the use of a drone to fly the flag, which bore the Albanian black-eagle insignia, a map of a notional 'Greater Albania' and the faces of Ismail Qemali and Isa Boletini, two important figures in the era that centred around the country's independence in 1912.
"When the drone flew over the stadium, as the only way to fly national colours in an aggressively hostile environment, the mayhem was more than 40 minutes old," said the statement. "The Albanian flag was considered a provocation, but that is the only flag we've got."
UEFA president Michel Platini and FIFA president Sepp Blatter both condemned the incident, and UEFA levied multiple disciplinary charges on both countries' football associations.
The two countries share a troubled history in the Balkan region, which has been home to many racial and ethnic conflicts. In recent times, contentiousness has centered on Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008 and that was at the center of armed conflict in the 1990s.
An Albanian majority exists in Kosovo, and Serbia and many Serbians within Kosovo refuse to officially recognize the country as an independent state.
The match Tuesday was the countries' first meeting since Serbia became an independent country and Albania's first trip to Serbia since 1967.
- Ben Estes