BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbian hooligans were widely condemned on Wednesday as UEFA began an investigation that could lead to the Balkan country being kicked out of soccer.
Violence has marred Serbian soccer for two decades and Tuesday’s scenes in Genoa where visiting fans launched flares at Italy supporters and tried to cause a riot have cast doubt over Serbia’s future in the Euro 2012 qualifiers.
UEFA issued a statement saying it had opened a “full and thorough disciplinary investigation into the incidents of serious disorder” at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
Once all the evidence has been gathered, UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary Body has several sanctions available, ranging from a large fine to disqualification from competitions in progress and/or exclusion from future competitions.
Group C leaders Italy, set to refund their fans at the game, are also likely to be awarded a 3-0 walkover win.
The Serbia FA has called an emergency executive board meeting for Friday but few senior soccer figures in the country would be surprised if UEFA hands down a severe punishment at its hearing on October 28.
The match was abandoned after six minutes when flares landed near players on the pitch. The start had already been delayed for 35 minutes because of crowd disorder and there were clashes outside the ground with police late into the night.
Serbia’s goalkeeper was also abused before the match by his own fans and a flare was hurled into the team bus.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said he feared a major tragedy and former Serbia striker Savo Milosevic believes they could find themselves in isolation after years of neglect.
Milosevic, Serbia’s most capped international with 102 appearances, said the nation had already hit the end of the road for the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine, one way or the other.
“This is one of the darkest days in the history of Serbia’s football and the punishment is likely to be so drastic that the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign is as good as over for us,” he told B92 television after seeing the scenes.
“The government has been completely disinterested in sports and its problems over the last 20 years, hence Serbia is now paying a heavy price for the failure to tackle hooliganism swiftly and decisively,” he said.
With the stadium violence resulting in at least 17 arrests in Italy, including the ringleader who was identified because of his tattoos, Serbia are unlikely to get away with a hefty fine.
Violence by Serbian fans has plagued domestic soccer for 20 years but until Tuesday had not been exported on such a large scale. A new visa-free travel agreement with most EU countries means more supporters can travel.
Prandelli said he feared the worst as the violence went on.
“When I saw the ultras trying to break the Perspex glass (between the Serbian and Italian fans) and saw terrorized people fleeing, I really was scared,” the Italy coach told reporters.
“In a situation like that, it takes little to turn it into a tragedy.”
Serbian police said they had arrested five fans upon their arrival home, adding they would wait for the outcome of legal action against those who have been detained in Italy.
“First we have to see how the issue will end in Italy and what offences they will be charged with, to determine whether we have legal grounds to press the same charges in Serbia,” Interior Minister Ivica Dacic told Belgrade’s Beta news agency.
“Police here will investigate how these people were able to buy match tickets,” he said.
Italian authorities, battling their own hooligan problem and alarmed that fans continually bring banned flares into stadiums, were also looking into the Genoa ticketing issue amid speculation UEFA could sanction Italy too.
“We have spotted problems in the information systems between Italy and Serbia,” Roberto Massucci, a member of Italy’s anti-hooligan body, told a Rome news conference.
“We weren’t given any warning that there were risks with the Serbia fans.”
Additional reporting by Mark Meadows in Genoa; Editing by Martyn Herman and Alison Wildey