A footballer has admitted culpability after wild scenes at an ultra-tense World Cup qualifier in Albania, where fans hurled water bottles and missiles after Polish players celebrated scoring in front of them.
Poland striker Karol Swiderski scored the late winner in the potentially vital qualifier for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, running over to home fans after a goal that denied Albania the chance to seal second spot in Group I and move a step closer to reaching their first ever finals tournament.
Thrilled Swiderski and full-back Tymoteusz Puchacz postured in front of the crowd behind the hoardings after the goal that moved Poland into second spot behind England, only for the pair to end up cowering and covering their heads as projectiles rained down on them from frustrated home fans.
Amid an atmosphere later described as “dangerous” by Robert Lewandowski, referee Clement Turpin took the decision – which the Poland captain conceded would have been “difficult” for the official – to take the players off the pitch in the hope that the scenes in the stands would calm down.
The teams eventually returned to play out the final 13 minutes of the visitors’ 1-0 win, although Swiderski’s post-match TV interview was also cut short because bottles were being thrown at him as part of a series of incidents that FIFA has pledged to investigate.
“It was a fantastic feeling to score a goal in such a game in a foreign stadium,” the 24-year-old told TVP Sport.
“I will certainly remember it. On the other hand, the fact that the fans reacted like that was partly my fault.
“I unnecessarily ran towards them to celebrate, but I was under the influence of emotions. It happened.”
Fans said that their counterparts had been swearing and waving their fists at them before the action started. “At first I didn’t know what it was,” one told WP of the bottle-throwing.
“The noise was huge. We felt as if hail was blowing from the stands. The bottles hit the pitch with great force – it was loud.”
Another said: “After Swiderski’s goal, the fans banged on the plastic plexiglass separating the hosts from the Polish stand. They were furious. They threw beers out of anger.
“Albanian fans acted like club fans. They sang for the whole match, celebrated the smallest things – winning the ball from Lewandowski, the loss of the ball by Polish players.
“Until they started throwing objects from the stands, they were creating hell, but in a positive sense. I liked this atmosphere very much.
Poland’s World Cup qualification match against Albania this evening has been suspended by the referee after Albanian fans threw bottles at Polish players while they celebrated scoring a goal.It is not known when the game will resume #ALBPOLpic.twitter.com/3fVyw4XMnV
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 12, 2021
“The game might not have been thrilling, but you watched it intently. The tribunes lived as if goal after goal was being scored.
“I have missed such an atmosphere for a long time. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I had forgotten what it could be like.”
Cezary Kulesza, a former Poland international who is the president of the country’s FA and sat with the president of Albania, Ilir Meta, was less enamored by the volatile backdrop.
“A moment before the game, we exchanged a few words and you could hear in his voice that he believed very strongly in the victory of his team,” he said of his experience with Meta at the 22,500-capacity Arena Kombetare.
“Unfortunately, after the goal we scored and the situation related to the fans, one could feel his anxiety and slight embarrassment with the whole situation.
“We both know that this is not how the cheering of fans at national team matches should look.”
Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is said to have drunk from one of the bottles that was thrown and insisted the players had not been concerned about safety, concentrating only on the match.
“This was the first time I saw something like this,” admitted midfielder Piotr Zielinski about his experience afterwards.
“They lost the match, they are upset. The bottles were full of water and that was dangerous. They flew at us repeatedly. Fortunately, none of us got hit in the head.”
WC Qualification. 12.10.2021Albania – PolandDifferent Albanian groups on their way to Tirana for the match. Ballistët Tetovë (Shkëndija Tetovo)KZJ 1999 (KF Vëllaznimi Gjakovë)Kastriotët Gostivar (KF Gostivari) pic.twitter.com/AGniEOeViG
— HooligansTV (@HooligansTV_eu) October 12, 2021
Group leaders England, who also witnessed trouble during their 1-1 draw with Hungary at Wembley, are three points clear at the top of the group, making the Three Lions considerable favorites to qualify for the World Cup.
That leaves Poland in pole position to earn a place in the play-offs for qualification, sitting two points clear of Albania in second ahead of the final two group games.
“We stood and we knew we would come back,” said Poland defender Pawel Dawidowicz of the enforced break in play.
“We [knew that we] must be prepared so that no-one would distract us. It’s fun to play such matches, but you can feel the atmosphere and people feel that they are kicking the ball. I liked it.”