BOSNIA - Israeli soccer took a turn for the worst Thursday night when Hapoel Tel Aviv fans set fire to the stands in the team's UEFA Cup qualifying match with Siroki Brijeg in Bosnia. Two were arrested and one fan was evacuated to a hospital following the incident.
After gaining a 1-0 advantage in the 14th minute, Hapoel fans celebrated by lighting torches and throwing them on the field. Local ushers threw the torches back at the crowd, setting the seats in the old stadium on fire. The UEFA observer and referee immediately ordered the game come to a halt.
The Israeli fans, which were held up by local police officers before entering the stadium at the start of the game, were confronted once again with the same officers, who beat them severely with sticks.
Many fans suffered bloody injuries from the beating and pushing by Bosnian police officers, who were instructed to evacuate all the Hapoel fans from the stadium. The Israeli ambassador in Bosnia has been making attempts to have the two fans who were arrested released in order for them to catch their flight back home on Friday.
Only after the evacuation, which took about 15 minutes, was complete did the observer order the game to resume. Israeli fans were not allowed back into the stadium, and missed the end of the match in which their team won 3-0.
Embarrassed Hapoel heads tried to calm things down, but are expecting serious responses from the UEFA administration, which may lead to harsh sanctions or even immediate expulsion from European soccer.
Upon returning to Israel, Hapoel heads will consult with legal advisors in order to try and minimize the sanctions the team will receive.
The Israel Football Association was quick to condemn the incident, saying, "The Football Association condemns all incidents of inappropriate behavior of the fans. It's a shame that a handful of fans harms the beloved team, and gives Hapoel Tel Aviv in particular and Israeli soccer in general a bad name."
Former chairman of the Knesset Inquiry Committee on Violence in Sports MK Avshalom Vilan said, "It is a shame to Israeli sport in general, and to the soccer fans in particular.
"I view Hapoel Tel Aviv's fans' violent rioting very severely and urge the team's management to identify the rioters and give their names to the Israel Police. In addition, they should be banned for good from all of the team's matches in Israel."
Rotem Grossman contributed to this report