While most eyes will be focused on the pitch when Serbia meet Italy in their Euro 2012 qualification match on Friday, there will be a similar amount trained upon the terraces after the riots that accompanied their previous meeting.
Serbia’s Euro 2012 qualifier with already-qualified Italy here on Friday will play out against a backdrop of tension following the riots that marred their last encounter in Genoa.
Serbia need to win to secure second place in Group C, which would see them qualify for the play-offs, but anything else would open the opportunity for Estonia, Slovenia or even Northern Ireland to sneak ahead of them.
The team is also keen to wipe out memories of the trouble that erupted during the October 2010 match in Genoa, which was called off after just six minuted because of violence from Serbian hooligans in the crowd.
Serbian police have classified the game as high-risk and are trying to ban all supporters involved in the Genoa riots from Red Star Belgrade’s Marakana stadium, where the fixture will be played.
For weeks police have been liaising with organisers, Belgrade municipal authorities and supporters’ associations to make sure the match goes off without a hitch.
Some 6,000 police officers will be present to secure the stadium and the city of Belgrade.
Italian fans have not been barred from attending the game but the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) has not asked for a ticket quota and is not selling any tickets to their fans.
If the tifosi want to see the game, they have to get their tickets through the Serb football federation or other ticketing outlets here.
Italian and Serb police authorities have also been in contact in the last month to “limit the chance of incidents”, an FIGC official said.
Italian and Serb authorities blamed each other for the violence that caught the police unaware in October last year.
“There will be no trouble with the tifosi,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli stressed, adding that he was “not afraid at all”.
For the home side, the objectives are clear.
“This is one of the most important matches of this generation (of players). A victory will get us to the play-offs and to get it we have to play our top game,” said Serbia’s Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic.
The Serbs are also eager to put in a performance that will erase memories of the trouble in Genoa.
“The events in Genoa last year give us an additional drive to show what we can do,” said Juventus winger Milos Krasic.
“It has been a while since we beat a great team here at home. We have a chance on Friday.
Although there is nothing riding on the match for Italy, their players are still feeling wary.
“Having the game called off due to violence by the Serbian fans was a shock for everyone,” said central midfielder Daniele De Rossi.
“In Belgrade I hope there is a fiery atmosphere in the stadium and that they try to intimidate us with their support, but without violence.
“The forces of order are going to be paying a lot of attention.”