Black-and-white night in the White City
BELGRADE / ISTANBULA Beşiktaş club striving for European success will face Partizan in a maiden Belgrade visit tonight as the Serbian black-and-whites look to end their UEFA Europa League Group C scoring drought – not to mention their long wait for a group stage win – as their similarly appareled Turkish counterparts visit.
Football-linked tensions in Belgrade marked the pre-match atmosphere, with Turkish media warning fans to exercise caution in visiting the Serbian capital, whose name translates as White City.
Fans should keep away from Kale Meydan (Kale Square), Skadarlija and the surroundings of the Partizan stadium, the venue for clashes for the past two games, as Partizan fan groups Grobari (Grave Diggers), Alcatraz and Zabranjeni (Forbiddens) traditionally occupy the area before games, daily Hürriyet has reported.
The prime ministers of Serbia and Albania said on Oct. 19 that they had agreed to postpone a meeting scheduled for this week following a diplomatic row over a Euro 2016 qualifier that ended in violence on Oct. 14 between the two sides.
Albania’s Edi Rama had been due to visit Belgrade on Oct. 22 – the first such trip by an Albanian leader in 68 years in what was widely seen as a chance to reset ties after a long history of tensions between the Balkan nations.
He will now make the journey on Nov. 10 to allow tempers to cool over Serbia and Albania’s European Championship qualifying tie, which was abandoned after a pitch brawl.
Serbian officials have accused Rama’s brother, Olsi Rama, of sparking the chaos by releasing a small drone trailing a nationalist Albanian flag over the match venue. He has denied the accusation.
Partizan beat archrivals Red Star 1-0 in an Oct. 18 derby that was twice halted up due to heavy smoke from flares on Partizan’s side, followed by a similar move by Red Star supporters.
The UEFA has tasked its Disciplinary Committee with investigating what happened on Oct. 14. Serbian Football Federation President Tomoslav Karadzic told Anadolu Agency that his group has gathered all the evidence relating to the abandoned qualifier.
“Everything was initiated by Albania,” Karadzic claimed.
Beşiktaş does not underestimate Partizan, the Turksh side’s Croatian coach Slaven Bilic said over the weekend. “They almost beat Tottenham on their home ground and have passionate fans. However, we are used to playing under that kind of atmosphere and pressure. It is not going to be an easy game, but if we want to proceed in the Europa League, we must pick up points from wherever we can,” he said.
Turkish clubs are unbeaten in three games in Serbia since the turn of the millennium.
Partizan have yet to score in Group C, and they have gone 14 matches without a group stage win since beating FC Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0 in their final game of the 2009/10 season.
Turkey’s Black Sea team Trabzonspor, meanwhile, will seek amends against Belgium’s Lokeren after their 1-0 matchday two defeat by Legia Warsaw.
As they meet for the first time, Trabzonspor and Lokeren have enjoyed mixed fortunes since the start of UEFA Europa League Group L, with both sides taking three points from two games.