Legia Warszawa’s Europa League clash against Albanians FK Kukësi descended into chaos last night, when the game was abandoned after just 53 minutes, with the Poles leading 2-1.
Tensions had been high leading up to the Third Qualifying Round clash, with one Albanian newspaper describing Legia supporters as “Nazis”, and Kukësi supporters welcoming their Polish visitors “to hell”. Troubles had also flared on the streets of Tirana, with a number of reported clashes between the two sets of fans; while inside the stadium, hostile banners and hold-ups due to crowd trouble created only more problems.
There were also more complaints dished out as the Albanian broadcasters were unable to provide a video feed for much of the first half, while Legia were not supplied with the required equipment for the training session at the stadium a day earlier. The stadium, in parts dilapidated and crumbling, was also deemed by some as not fit to host European football, with pieces of stone and rock easily dislodged from the stands.
In the end it took one of those large stones, thrown by the home fans at Legia midfielder Ondrej Duda, which forced the officials to finally take action. Celebrating a Jakub Rzeźniczak goal to give the visitors a 2-1 lead, Slovakian international Duda was struck on the head by the projectile; falling to the floor with a large gash clearly visible.
Duda was forced to leave the field on a stretcher, but after being bandaged he changed his shirt ready for a reintroduction which was quickly scuppered. The officials, led by the UEFA delegate Martin Sturkenboom, swiftly made their decision to abandon the game, much to the fury of the Albanian side. Kukësi bosses then continued their protests as the home terraces were hastily emptied, declaring that the game could now recommence as the players’ security could now be guaranteed – failing though to realise that the Poles had already left the stadium, and were making their way to the airport with a police chaperone.
The Wojskowi had taken the lead in the first half with a goal from recent signing Nemanja Nikolić, although they were pegged back early in the second by Portuguese Felipe Moreira Santos. Defender Rzeźniczak restored Legia’s advantage just two minutes later, and moments before the offending incident.
Legia are of course no stranger to European controversy, having been denied a place in the Champions League play-off round less than a year ago, after fielding an ineligible player for the final four minutes of their second leg against Celtic.
Although UEFA are yet to release a statement in regards to last night’s game, early indications point towards Legia being handed a 3-0 walkover, with the second leg to be played in Warsaw on Thursday 6th August. Although the governing body can, in extreme cases go further, with expulsion from the competition a mooted punishment.
Albanian police have confirmed that no Legia supporters have been arrested, and that buses were arranged to remove them to safety.
*earlier version was amended to omit the reported presence of pitch invaders. This was a mis-translation, and apologies for any offence caused.