An important Euro 2016 qualifier in Montenegro took a scary turn just moments after kickoff when a flare thrown from the stands hit Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev in the head or neck.
Akinfeev immediately hit the ground and looked to be in bad shape. He was eventually driven off of the pitch and the match was suspended, originally for 10 minutes, but the suspension continued long after that time frame had passed.
Russia and Montenegro are level on five points for third place in Group G and just a point off of second place Sweden. The third place team goes to a playoff for Euro qualification while second place qualifies directly, so the match clearly meant a lot.
Still, there is intensity and there is throwing flares, let alone on the pitch. That Montenegro fan may have thought he was supporting his team. He may have thought he was being clever. He may have been downright vicious and intended to hit Akinfeev. But it doesn’t really matter what his intentions were. Endangering players’ safety, or anyone’s safety, is unacceptable.
UEFA will probably come down hard on Montenegro, as it should. The team may have to play its next match in an empty stadium, and its federation will certainly be fined. The team should also have points deducted. It’s harsh, but is it at all unfair?
Some countries don’t even allow flares into their stadiums. They also have different cultures of fan support, but Montenegro chose to allow flares. It chose to make this a possibility. It enabled its fans. It should have to pay for it, and if losing points also keeps fans who so desperately want to support their team from throwing things on the pitch — flare or not — all the better.
Losing points may be what keeps Montenegro from making the Euros. It allowed a player to get hit by a flare. Screw its Euro qualification.