- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 12, 2010

GENOA, ITALY (AP) - Serbia’s European Championship qualifier at Italy was abandoned after seven minutes Tuesday night because visiting fans threw flares and fireworks onto the field, burned a flag and broke barriers in a protest of their own team that appeared to be premeditated.

Serbia fans also clashed with police earlier in the day and delayed the start of the match for 45 minutes. Then when the game at Stadio Luigi Ferraris finally began, more flares and fireworks were thrown onto the field, and referee Craig Thomson of Scotland stopped the match with the score 0-0.

Italy could be awarded a 3-0 forfeit victory by the Union of European Football Associations. UEFA spokesman Rob Faulkner told The Associated Press in a text message that when a match is abandoned for safety reasons, the usual procedure is to use the referee and match delegate’s report to open a case before the governing body’s control and disciplinary panel.

In 2007, the panel awarded Sweden a 3-0 win over Denmark in a similar case.

Tomislav Karadzic, president of Serbia’s soccer federation, said the protest likely was organized in Belgrade.

“It’s an attack on the state, and the state has to resolve this problem,” he was quoted as saying by Serbian media.

Earlier in the day, Serbia’s usual starting goalkeeper, Vladimir Stojkovic, was hit by a flare thrown toward the team bus and taken to a hospital, according to the ANSA news agency. Stojkovic upset some Red Star Belgrade fans by moving to the club’s fierce rival, Partizan, during the offseason.

Stojkovic’s replacement, Zeljko Brkic, was nearly hit by one of the flares thrown onto the field when the game started.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said he found Stojkovic trembling in the Azzurri locker room when the Italian team arrived at the stadium.

“We couldn’t understand why. Then the interpreter explained it to us,” Prandelli said. “He was threatened and feared for his safety. Right then and there we realized that the game was at risk. Every (Serb) player knew that their fans were organized to suspend the game.”

Clashes continued outside the stadium after the match was called off, according to local reports.

“This isn’t football; it’s pure delinquency,” Italy midfielder Angelo Palombo said, adding that Serbia captain Dejan Stankovic came into the Azzurri’s changing room to apologize after the game was abandoned.

Italy security director Roberto Massucci was upset that the Serbian police didn’t warn of the danger from the nation’s supporters.

“Fans this dangerous shouldn’t have arrived in Genoa,” Massucci said. “Due to experience, we were prepared, but we never imagined such a high level of aggressiveness.”

Italy goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano said it would have been impossible to play in the goal in front of the Serbia fans.

Serbia has faced increased criticism at home after losing 3-1 at home to Estonia on Friday. That match marked the debut of new coach Vladimir Petrovic, hired when Radomir Antic was fired following a 1-1 draw at home with Slovenia last month. The team has been in turmoil following its first-round elimination at the World Cup.

Before the scheduled kickoff, a few fans with ski masks that covered their faces except for their eyes climbed up onto a partition, took out tools and began cutting through a mesh fence. Glass partitions were broken. One fan with his head covered burned what appeared to be an Albanian flag.

Police dressed in riot gear confronted the fans and eventually the teams came back out. Serbia fans whistled and booed throughout their national anthem, but the game began.

At one point during the delay, Serbia players walked over to their fans.

“We didn’t applaud. We calmed down the fans,” Stankovic, a longtime Inter Milan player, told RAI.

The match was to be played in memory of four Italian soldiers killed in Afghanistan on Saturday. Several fan banners around the stadium paid tribute to the soldiers and Italy wore black armbands.

“It’s a real big disappointment, because there were a lot of kids in the stadium with their families ready to watch a great game,” Prandelli said.

Serbia’s starting lineup include defender Neven Subotic, who spent part of his youth growing up in Salt Lake City and played for the United States Under-17 and Under-20 teams before switching nationalities.

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