Police in Albania have arrested a man who claimed to have flown a drone carrying a nationalist banner over a stadium in Serbia last year during a European qualifier, in an incident that prompted fan violence and a diplomatic spat between the two countries.
Ismail Morinaj, 33, was arrested with three other men as part of a security operation on the eve of the return match in Elbasan, Albania.
Morinaj, who is from the north-eastern Kukes area but lives in Italy, is a regular at Albania’s away matches.
Two handguns, ammunition, and 36 match tickets were seized, police said. Morinaj was found with a Serbian-made Zastava pistol and a Chinese handgun.
Police have taken extensive security measures for Thursday’s game, deploying more than 2,000 officers and enforcing road closures and a traffic cordon around the stadium. Fans will have to show identification and be searched before entering Elbasan Arena.
Saimir Tahiri, the interior minister, said undercover officers would also be used. He said an elite police unit had been assigned to protect members of the Serbia team. “This is an opportunity to show our values in supporting the national team and hosting the guest team,” he said.
Despite the security, travel officials with the Serbia team said no plans had been made for Serbian fans to travel to Albania.
Albania are third in Group I with 11 points from six matches. Portugal lead with 15 points, followed by Denmark with 12 but having played an additional game. The top two qualify automatically with the third-place team entering a play-off.