Albania awarded win over Serbia in drone incident

Albania was awarded a victory over Serbia by the top sports court on Friday in a reversal of a UEFA sanction over a soccer game that was abandoned when a drone with a political banner flew into the stadium.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport decided that Albania had not refused to play on in a hostile atmosphere in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, in October as European football’s governing body had initially ruled.

CAS ruled that Serbia was responsible for the European Championship qualifier not being completed and had to forfeit the match. Serbia had been awarded a default 3-0 victory by UEFA but then deducted three points and ordered to play its next two qualifiers in an empty stadium.

Serbia has still been deducted three points but now Albania has been awarded the 3-0 win in the Euro 2016 qualifying group.

Based on the CAS ruling, Albania is now level on 10 points with second-place Denmark in Group I, which is led by Portugal. Serbia is now last on minus two points.

CAS did, however, confirm UEFA’s ruling that Albania was responsible for the drone carrying an Albanian nationalist banner hovering above the field in the Serbian capital. UEFA’s decision to fine both federations 100,000 euros ($112,000) was also upheld by CAS as Serbia’s appeal was completely dismissed.

Tensions between the countries were fueled by Kosovo — an ethnic Albanian-dominated province — declaring independence from Serbia in 2008.

Since the match, however, both Tirana and Belgrade have enjoyed warmer relations. The prime ministers of both nations visited each other’s capitals and have pledged to lead the efforts of integration into the European Union of all the Western Balkan countries.

But Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic called the CAS ruling a “global injustice.”

“Those who caused the incident have been awarded, while the victim has been punished,” Vucic said. “The ruling by the court in Lausanne is a shame for law and justice and an insult to all normal people.”

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama responded triumphantly to the announcement on Facebook: “That is European justice! 3 points for the Red-and-Black National Team in Belgrade!!!”

The Oct. 14 match was stopped in the 41st minute when the drone appeared in Belgrade, prompting clashes among players. Serbian fans also attacked Albania team members and threw flares onto the field.

CAS said it was unable to confirm that the referee issued a “clear, direct and unconditional order to the players to resume the match on the basis of a definite decision that safety had been assured.”

“The panel found that the match stoppage and the eventual abandonment of the match were caused by security lapses of the organizers and acts of violence exerted on the Albanian players by the Serbian fans and at least one security steward,” CAS said.

The Balkan countries are scheduled for a return match in Albania on Oct. 8.

“I am very happy, of course because when justice triumphs everybody is happy,” Albania coach Giovanni de Biasi said.

The ruling makes the pursuit of the two automatic qualification places for the Euro 2016 finals in France tighter, with Denmark ahead of Albania only on goal difference but with a game in hand.

“To me it is completely incomprehensible,” Denmark coach Morten Olsen told Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet. “Things apparently go against us all the time.”


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