Albania's historic Euro hopes dashed

Euro 2016 (AP Photo)
Euro 2016 (AP Photo)

Elbasan - Serbia gained a measure of revenge on Thursday with a 2-0 win in Albania in a tense match held amid tight security, a year after the Belgrade fixture between the Balkan rivals was abandoned due to violence.

Stoppage-time goals from Aleksandar Kolarov and Adem Ljajic earned the visitors a satisfying Euro 2016 qualifying victory and denied their hosts a historic first ever place in a major finals.

Despite fears there might be trouble when the two sides met again in the Albanian city of Elbasan, the match passed without problems, surrounded by a huge police presence.

At their match in Belgrade last October, Serbian fans had hurled smoke bombs and invaded the pitch to attack Albanian players after a drone carrying a nationalist flag bearing a map of "Greater Albania" flew over the stadium.

The incident escalated into a diplomatic row and highlighted the fragile ties between the two Balkan nations.

In July, the Court of Arbitration for Sport awarded a 3-0 win to Albania for the aborted game, deeming the Serbian FA responsible for it not being played in full.

The result meant Serbia could not get through to the European Championships, while Albania retained a chance of reaching a major tournament for the first time in their history.

Thursday's result leaves Albania third in Group I, a point behind Denmark, and needing a win in Armenia on Sunday to qualify, otherwise they will head to the last-chance play-offs.

Serbian goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic had said ahead of Thursday's clash that his team wanted to "spoil their plans" and prevent Albania from qualifying.

About 1,500 police officers were deployed to ensure there was no trouble in Elbasan, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) south of Tirana.

The Serbian national anthem was booed at the start of the match, but no hostile slogans were reported during the 90 minutes.

Both teams' players were photographed together before the game carrying signs saying "No to Racism", which was greeted with applause.

Bilateral relations have traditionally been frosty, especially since Kosovo, a former province of Serbia populated by mostly ethnic Albanians, declared independence in 2008 -- a move not recognised by Belgrade.

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