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Serbia and Albania game abandoned after drone invasion sparks brawl

updated 7:27 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Brother of Albanian PM was arrested after the brawl, Serbian PM's office says
  • Serbia's game against Albania in Belgrade was canceled after 42 minutes
  • A drone flew over the stadium carrying a flag with Albanian symbols
  • Both sets of players involved in brawl before game abandoned; UEFA is investigating

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(CNN) -- Ethnic tensions in the Balkans and an incident involving a drone led to the abandonment of a major European international football game Tuesday.

Serbia's European Championship qualifying match with Albania was abandoned after 41 minutes following ugly clashes between both sets of players.

The brawl followed the arrival of a mini-drone, which flew over the stadium while carrying a flag depicting the "Greater Albania."

Albania's tie against Serbia in Belgrade had to be called off following a brawl between both sets of players. A drone flew over the stadium with a flag emblazoned with Albanian symbols, which was taken down by home player Stefan Mitrovic. A melee ensued with police taking to the field with the contest abandoned after 41 minutes. Albania's tie against Serbia in Belgrade had to be called off following a brawl between both sets of players. A drone flew over the stadium with a flag emblazoned with Albanian symbols, which was taken down by home player Stefan Mitrovic. A melee ensued with police taking to the field with the contest abandoned after 41 minutes.
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Match abandoned after drone invasion Match abandoned after drone invasion
Football match ended by drone, brawl

When Serbian player Stefan Mitrovic ripped the flag down, it provided the catalyst for an already combustible tie to fully ignite.

Martin Atkinson, the English referee, took the players off the field with the game goalless following clashes between rival players.

See images of the incident

There were no signs of the tie being restarted with UEFA, the game's European governing body, confirming the game had been abandoned.

Albanian players ran from the field, while a number of missiles and flares were thrown from the stands by some home supporters. Images from photo agencies showed fans had invaded the pitch.

In a statement on its website, UEFA said that the match "was abandoned and the circumstances will be reported to the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body."

It is expected to make an announcement on disciplinary proceedings on Wednesday.

The "Greater Albania" insignia refers to the idea of an extended area in which all ethnic Albanians reside -- one which would include Kosovo.

The two figures on the flag were Isa Boljetini, an Albanian nationalist who led uprisings against the Serbs and Ottomans in 1912 and 1913, while the other, Ismail Qemali, is considered to be the founder of the modern Albanian state, which became independent in 1912.

The word "Autochthonous," which refers to an indigenous inhabitant of a place, was emblazoned at the bottom of the flag and is considered an offense to Serbians.

The brother of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was arrested in Serbia on Tuesday night following the brawl, the office of the Serbian Prime Minister told CNN on Wednesday.

Olsi Rama was held briefly before being released at the insistence of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, then put on a plane home, Vucic's office said.

"What happened is something we can't comprehend at the moment," Serbia captain Branislav Ivanovic told reporters.

"On behalf of my team, all I can say is that we wanted to carry on and that we shielded the Albanian players every step of the way to the tunnel (after the riot broke out).

"The Albanian team said they were unfit physically and mentally to carry on after talking to the officials and they will now decide the fate of this match.

"We can only regret that football took a back seat but it is difficult to draw any conclusions or make any comments now."

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Cristiano Ronaldo\'s Facebook fan club Cristiano Ronaldo's Facebook fan club

Security had been tight in the lead up to the contest in Belgrade with no away fans present with tensions running high over Kosovo -- a majority-Albanian former Serbian province which declared independence in 2008.

In 1999, a 78-day air war was launched by NATO to stop the killing off ethnic Albanians in Kosovo by Serbian forces.

Kosovo's independence is recognized by many countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France -- but not Serbia.

Four of Albania's starting lineup were born in Kosovo, with Lorik Cana of Italian club Lazio, goalkeeper Etrit Berisha, midfielder Burim Kukeli and Ermir Lenjani.

With Kosovo not recognized as a state by the United Nations, it is unable to join FIFA or UEFA, meaning some of its players have adopted other countries.

Xherdan Shaqiri, who plays his club football with Bayern Munich, represents Switzerland as does Valon Behrami and Granit Xhaka.

While Kosovo is able to play friendly matches, the team cannot compete in international competition.

Belgium-born Adnan Januzaj, one of the most exciting talents in the English Premier League with Manchester United, turned down the opportunity to play for Kosovo, where his father is from. He was also eligible for Albania through his mother's lineage.

Albania's tie against Serbia in Belgrade had to be called off following a brawl between both sets of players. A drone flew over the stadium with a flag emblazoned with Albanian symbols, which was taken down by home player Stefan Mitrovic. A melee ensued with police taking to the field with the contest abandoned after 41 minutes. Albania's tie against Serbia in Belgrade had to be called off following a brawl between both sets of players. A drone flew over the stadium with a flag emblazoned with Albanian symbols, which was taken down by home player Stefan Mitrovic. A melee ensued with police taking to the field with the contest abandoned after 41 minutes.
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"We came to Belgrade to play football, but we were physically attacked by the Serbian supporters," Cana told reporters.

"We just wanted to take the flag, and everything would be under control if the stadium security at the stadium had prevented the supporters from attacking our players.

"I was defending my teammate, I have injuries to my face, as does Taulant Xhaka. They asked us to play in front of empty stands (instead of abandonment) -- however, we did not feel good because of our injuries."

Albania had not played in Belgrade since 1967 and must now wait for UEFA to make a decision on whether the game should be replayed.

"It is a regretful situation on which we will report; the referee, myself and the security adviser. The circumstances were such that we couldn't continue the match," UEFA's match delegate, Harry Been told reporters.

"You all saw what happened and I cannot comment on who is to blame or what to blame. I will submit a report with my colleagues to Uefa and Uefa will decide what will happen further."

Read: Teenager makes European history

Germany stifled

Elsewhere, Germany's poor run of form continued after it was held to a 1-1 draw in Gelsenkirchen by the Republic of Ireland.

Toni Kroos' long-range effort appeared to have sealed victory for the home side but John O'Shea marked his 100th appearance with a dramatic late equalizer.

Poland, which defeated Germany 2-0 last time out, was forced to settle for a point following a 2-2 draw with Scotland.

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrated reaching 100 million Facebook fans by scoring a 95th minute winner in Portugal's 1-0 victory over Denmark.

Elsewhere, Northern Ireland's remarkable run of form means it has now won three qualifying games in a row.

A 2-0 victory in Greece courtesy of goals from Jamie Ward and Kyle Lafferty means it sits top of Group F with maximum points.

Read: Cristiano Ronaldo's Facebook fan club

CNN's Alexander Hunter and Alba Prifti contributed to this report.

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