Fan killed in Greece during clashes between rival supporters. UEFA postpones Champions League game

Eight fans were injured in the clashes outside AEK Athens’ stadium, while Greek police said Tuesday they had made 88 arrests, mostly of Croatian supporters

An AEK Athens club soccer player places flowers outside Agia Sophia Stadium, the home stadium of AEK Athens soccer team following clashes between soccer fans, on August 8, 2023.
An AEK Athens club soccer player places flowers outside Agia Sophia Stadium, the home stadium of AEK Athens soccer team following clashes between soccer fans, on August 8, 2023.EUROKINISSI (via REUTERS)

A 29-year-old soccer fan was killed in fierce overnight clashes between rival supporters in the Greek capital, prompting European football governing body UEFA to postpone a Champions League qualifying game between AEK Athens and Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday.

Eight fans were also injured in the extensive clashes outside AEK’s stadium in the northern suburb of Nea Philadelphia, while Greek police said they had made 88 arrests, mostly of Croatian supporters. Amateur video of the incident showed chaotic scenes, with fans hurling flares and petrol bombs and clashing with wooden bats.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic called his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis to express his condemnation of the violence, with the Croatian government describing the clashes as “horrific.”

Fans gathered at the site of the fan’s death Tuesday, leaving flowers, church candles and black-and-yellow AEK soccer scarves at the makeshift roadside shrine. Players from AEK, which won the Greek league last season, also visited the site.

Doctors said the victim — identified only by his first name, Michalis — died from stab wounds.

Gianni Infantino, president of world soccer governing body FIFA, expressed his “deepest condolences” to the family and friends of the victim.

“There is absolutely no place for violence in football, on or off the field, or in society. Alongside everyone at FIFA, I stand with all those affected by this tragic incident and call on the relevant authorities to ensure appropriate action is taken,” Infantino wrote in an online post.

Near the makeshift shrine, police cordoned off an area to gather evidence, pulling a wooden bat and other items from a dumpster.

After the fan’s death, Greek authorities had requested that all supporters should be excluded from the match between at the Opap Arena.

Dinamo fans were officially already excluded under a previous ruling by UEFA.

AEK fan Kyriakos Mantzakidis, who runs a sports blog, said police should have prevented scores of Croatian fans from traveling to Athens.

“This was a murderous attack against ordinary people. Many of the people gathered in this area were not soccer fans,” Mantzakidis said. “It is a failure of the government to plan properly ... it was a good decision to postpone the game. The atmosphere was too tense.”

Seven Greek police officers were suspended pending an internal investigation, government officials said, while a senior public prosecutor launched an official inquiry into the deadly clashes.

UEFA says what was going to be the second leg in Zagreb next Wednesday will now be the first leg. The second leg will be held in Athens on Friday 18th or Saturday 19th.

“UEFA deplores in the strongest possible terms the appalling incidents that took place in Athens last night and resulted in the loss of a life,” it said in a statement. “While expressing our deepest sympathy to the family of the victim, to AEK Athens FC and its fans, we would like to reiterate that violence has no place in our sport, and we expect that those responsible for this terrible act be arrested and consigned to justice in the shortest delay.”

“Following yesterday’s violence and in consultation with the local authorities, UEFA has decided that the conditions for the match between AEK Athens FC and GNK Dinamo to go ahead tonight are not met.”

UEFA and Greek authorities had anticipated problems in the Greek capital city with back-to-back nights of Champions League qualifying games involving visiting fans with a reputation for disorder.

As a result, UEFA had requested that no tickets should be sold to visiting fans for both the AEK-Dinamo game on Tuesday and the Panathinaikos-Marseille match on Wednesday.

Croatian media reports said that some 200 fans had traveled to Athens, likely as ordinary tourists, despite the soccer ban.

Dinamo has a far right fan group, which calls itself the Bad Blue Boys.

The clashes came in the week before Manchester City and Sevilla fans come to Athens for the UEFA Super Cup game È the traditional season-opener between the titleholders of the Champions League and Europa League. The game is being played at the Olympiakos stadium near the port city of Piraeus.

The AEK stadium also will host a UEFA showpiece game this season -- the final of the third-tier Europa Conference League next May.

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