Serbia matches have a history of rioting - Getty Images/Milos Miskov

Serbia matches have a history of rioting - Getty Images/Milos Miskov

The Telegraph:  Police are braced for a repeat of the rioting that has plagued England at the European Championship when their latest campaign begins against Serbia.

Officers in Germany are gearing up for the prospect of major fan disorder ahead of what has been branded the most “high-risk” match of Euro 2024.

England’s previous Euros campaigns have been marred by riots, most recently before their 2016 opener against Russia, as well as the final of the last tournament three years ago.

A toxic combination of factors has rendered Sunday night’s Serbia game more at risk of a repeat than any match since the climax of Euro 2020.

Warnings about the powder-keg fixture have come from Gelskenkirchen’s chief of police, Peter Both, who told Telegraph Sport the “high-risk” game carried a threat of rioting akin to that which plagued England’s previous Euros campaigns and saw England and Russia both threatened with expulsion from the 2016 tournament.

French riot police were forced to crack down hard on Russia and England fans - AP/Darko Bandic

“There is risk, of course, but we are very, very well prepared,” Both said.

“In principle, our riot-control units will keep a low profile. But if individuals or groups seek to cause disorder or engage in violent behaviour, these police units will be there. We will be there and we will intervene and take proactive action.”

Stressing he expected most of those travelling to Gelsenkirchen would be “absolutely peaceful”, he added: “The biggest challenge for us, for police, will be to identify violent, disruptive groups at an early stage and to separate them from peaceful and law-abiding fans.”

That could include up to 500 violence-seeking Serbian ultras expected to travel to the tournament in Germany and potentially to Sunday’s match.

“We don’t have concrete information but we can’t rule it out,” Both added. “So we have to prepare.”

Fan violence is rife in the Serbian club game, in which hooligan firms with names such as ‘The Gravediggers’ and ‘Head Hunters’ have been linked to organised crime groups accused of carrying out brutal murders, rapes and kidnappings.

Fan violence is rife in the Serbian club game - Getty Images/Talha Ozturk

English fans have been targeted during recent Champions League games and other European ties there, including when FK Crvena Zvezda – formally Red Star Belgrade – thugs attacked Manchester City supporters with sticks before a fixture between the clubs in December.

Serbia matches also have a history of rioting, which has forced the abandonment of two of their previous Euro qualifiers.

As revealed by Telegraph Sport, the Football Association failed in a bid to get the serving of alcohol banned close to the venue for Sunday night’s game over fears an entire weekend’s binge drinking could fuel fan disorder.

The match also takes place amid support from ultra-nationalist Serbs for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Britain has been supplying weapons to help repel, as well as ongoing ill-feeling over the UK’s role in the Nato bombing of Belgrade a quarter of a century ago.

Although England and Serbia have never met at senior level since the latter became a fully independent nation in 2006, previous encounters between their Under-21 teams have been marred by clashes on and off the field, including the throwing of missiles and racist abuse of rival players by the latter’s supporters.

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