By Mariya Cheresheva and Sven Milekic
Ugly incidents have marred the run-up to Thursday’s Europa League qualifier in Split, Croatia, between fans of Bulgarian team Levski and Croatia’s Hajduk.
Clashes between supporters of Bulgarian football team Levski and Croatia’s Hajduk erupted in the Croatian coastal city of Zadar on Wednesday night, the Bulgarian foreign ministry confirmed on Thursday.
Zadar Police told BIRN that four unknown persons attacked four Bulgarian citizens, setting their car on fire and injuring the driver, who was not hospitalised. No suspects behind the arson attack have been identified as yet.
The Bulgarian foreign ministry said police in Zadar were questioning 18 Levski fans, three of whom suffered mild injuries and received medical aid before being released from hospital.
The Bulgarian ministry quoted Croatian police information, according to which four Bulgarians got involved in a fight with Hajduk supporters in Split on Wednesday, and were then attacked on their way back to Zadar, where they are staying.
The Bulgarian ambassador to Croatia, Tanya Dimitrova, who has visited the scene, has been reassured by the Croatian authorities that the torching of the Bulgarian vehicle would be treated as a criminal offence and investigated, the ministry said.
Bulgarian NOVA TV sports correspondent Iliyan Enev reported on clashes between fans of the two rival teams throughout Wednesday.
“Our group of journalists even had to be guarded while we were dining in the hotel – something which happened for the first time,” he told NOVA.
Levski and Hajduk were due to play at 8.30pm Croatian time on Thursday in the first game of the second round of qualifications for the Europa League.
Wednesday’s accident is not the first involving Bulgarian football fans. Around 300 Levski fans were involved in a mass brawl with supporters of the Montenegrin club Sutjeska in Niskic, Montenegro on June 6. Levski fans apparently flocked to the VIP Lodge at the Niksic stadium and reportedly harassed visitors.
Montenegrin police moved in to prevent more violence after several fights erupted and torches were hurled onto the pitch.
On June 29, supporters of the Bulgarian team Botev Plovdiv took part in a mass fight in the Albanian capital, Tirana, after coming under attack from fans of Albania’s Partisans.