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News 19 Oct 17

Albania Braces for Partizan Belgrade's 'Historic' Return

Security will be tight on Thursday in Elbasan when iconic Serbian football team Partizan  Belgrade play their first match in Albania in 30 years.

Fatjona Mejdini, Maja Zivanovic
BIRN
Tirana, Belgrade
Serbian team Partizan during a training session in Tirana. Photo: LSA

Albania's Elbasan Arena stadium on Thursday night will host a "historic" football match when Serbian team Partizan Belgrade play in the country for the first time in 30 years.

Both Partizan Belgrade and Skanderbeu Korca have qualified for the Europa League 2017-2018 championship.

Partizan last played in Albania in September 1987, when they lost to Albanian team Flamurtari Vlora in the European competition.

Albanian fans hope Skenderbeu will repeat that slice of history - but they are going to be alone in the Elbasan stadium, since both the teams and EUFA have decided not to allow Serbian fans to come.

The same rule will apply for Albanian fans when Skenderbeu play in Belgrade in the second-leg match.

Tension between Serbs and Albanians in the Balkans remains high, especially over the hot issue of the former Serbian province of Kosovo, whose mainly Albanian population declared independence in 2008.

In the now notorious October 2014 match between the Serbia and Albania national teams, a drone flew over the pitch carrying a 'Greater Albania' flag, causing chaos both on the pitch and off.

Partizan in a statement warned fans not to try to buy tickets for the game, saying that if they did show up, they would seriously damage the club's chances.

The club said that another “incident could cost us a lot, even meaning that we are kicked out of European competitions”.

The coaches of the two teams during a press conference in Tirana on Wednesday said they wanted to focus on good football, not on politics.

However, strong security measures are still being imposed for the Thursday match in Elbasan, where 221 police will be deployed to ensure safety.

Many streets will be blocked off while shops will not be allowed to be open or cars to park near the stadium.

Fans will have to show their identity cards in order to keep out any people that might be coming from Serbia or Montenegro.

Skenderbeu player Bajram Jashanica, who also plays for the national team of Kosovo, raised some tension ahead of the game by telling a TV show that the match was important for him because he did not want people to forget what Serbs had done to his fellow Kosovars over the years.

The presidents of the clubs, however, have condemned any expressions of nationalism while calling on every fan and player to focus on the football.

Prizes await the team players if they win on Thursday. Skenderbeu has promised its team 100,000 euros while Partizan has pledged 130,000 euros in case they win.

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