MILAN (AP) – Fan behavior will be under the spotlight in Belgrade on Friday when Serbia hosts Italy in a European Championship qualifier, almost a year to the day after the previous meeting between the two had to be abandoned due to crowd trouble.
Italy was awarded a 3-0 victory following last year's match in Genoa, which was called off after only six minutes following trouble from the visiting fans.
Security will be beefed up for the match, but Serbian officials are not anticipating major trouble as Italian supporters are not expected to arrive in big numbers, with the Azzurri already qualified for next year's tournament.
Serbia is still attempting to secure second place in Group C and a playoff berth.
UEFA has issued Serbia with another warning of drastic punishment in case of riots in the stands.
''We were told that in case of incidents, there will be no mercy,'' Serbian football federation president Tomislav Karadzic said. ''But, I'm confident that nothing will happen and that we'll have great atmosphere at the stadium.''
The match last October was stopped early in the first half with the score 0-0 after Serbia supporters threw flares and fireworks onto the field, burned an Albanian flag and broke barriers, then clashed with police outside the stadium.
Ringleader Ivan Bogdanov was sentenced by an Italian court to three years and three months in jail and deported back to Serbia, along with another Serb fan leader.
UEFA also ordered Serbia to play its home match against Northern Ireland in March in an empty stadium.
Italy goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon does not fear any repercussions in Belgrade.
''I don't have any particular worries about fan behavior,'' he said. ''In the first match it wasn't just violence, but a precisely calculated campaign from the Serbian 'ultra' fans.
''In Belgrade it's going to be difficult no matter (the fan situation). It's going to be a good test for us.''
Italy already won Group C by beating Slovenia 1-0 last month with a late goal from Giampaolo Pazzini.
Serbia, which needs a win from one of its last two games to be guaranteed a playoff spot, travels to Slovenia on Tuesday. A point could be enough against Italy, depending on other results in the group, as Northern Ireland hosts Estonia and a draw in Belfast or a home win would leave both teams unable to catch the Serbs.
Serbia striker Marko Pantelic said he would rather be playing an Italy side still chasing qualification.
''It would have been better if the Italians had something to play for in this match,'' Pantelic said. ''Like this, they will be relaxed and more dangerous.''
Serbia will be without standout defender Nemanja Vidic and midfielder Zdravko Kuzmanovic because of injuries.
Cesare Prandelli has a selection headache after injuries saw strikers Mario Balotelli and Pazzini and fullback Domenico Criscito pull out of the Italy squad.
Argentine-born forward Pablo Osvaldo and Torino defender Angelo Ogbonna were called up as replacements.
However, Prandelli's preferred attacking partnership of United States-born Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano are expected to start.
Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.