UEFA postpones AEK Athens-Dinamo Zagreb match after fan killed in brawl

Dozens arrested, several injured in violent clashes between supporters of rival sides outside AEK’s stadium ahead of Champions League qualifying match.

Greek police experts search for evidence outside AEK Athens' OPAP Arena
Greek police search for evidence outside AEK Athens' OPAP Arena on August 8, 2023, after a Greek football fan was stabbed to death during a brawl with Dinamo Zagreb supporters [Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP]

A Greek football fan has been stabbed to death during a brawl between supporters of AEK Athens and Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb.

Police said nearly 100 people were arrested after the violent clashes, which led European football’s governing body, UEFA, to postpone the Champions League qualifying third-round, first-leg match between the two sides that was due to be played on Tuesday in Greece’s capital.

According to police, the fight broke out more than an hour after the visiting team’s training session ended late on Monday and the team had left the AEK stadium in the Athens suburb of New Philadelphia under police escort.

About 100 to 120 Dinamo Zagreb fans showed up near the stadium, where AEK supporters had gathered, and fans from both sides hurled Molotov cocktails and stones.

Greek police said the 29-year-old victim, identified only as Mihalis, was transported from the stadium to an Athens hospital where he died.

Three Greek and five Croatian fans were injured and being treated while 98 people were arrested, police added.

Those injured included a minor who was hospitalised after being hit in the head by a stone, according to public television channel ERT.

UEFA deplored “in the strongest possible terms the appalling incidents” and expressed its sympathy to the victim’s family.

“Following yesterday’s violence and in consultation with the local authorities, UEFA has decided that the conditions for the match between AEK Athens FC and GNK Dinamo to go ahead tonight are not met,” the football body said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The match planned to be played tonight at Agia Sofia Stadium in Athens is hereby postponed.”

UEFA, though, said the second leg due to be played in Zagreb on August 15 would go ahead while an alternative date will be found for the postponed match – August 18 or 19 being the suggested possibilities.

A man walks outside AEK Athens' OPAP Arena
After the deadly brawl broke out outside AEK Athens’ OPAP Arena, 98 arrests were made [Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP]

‘Preventative measures’

Greek news agency ANA said an investigation had been opened and those arrested would appear before the state prosecutor on Tuesday.

AEK said in a statement that its fan was killed by “professional killers, organised criminals who crossed the country and arrived in New Philadelphia from Zagreb to join forces here with Greek criminal accomplices with the sole purpose of killing”.

Translation: Mihalis, AEK will never forget you! Exemplary punishment for the murderers and those responsible!

The Greek champions demanded that the perpetrators be brought to justice and said it was “self-evident” that inaction “played a decisive role in this crime”.

Under a previous ruling by UEFA, Dinamo fans, who have a reputation for disorder, were barred from attending stadium matches.

Croatian media reports said about 200 fans had travelled to Athens, likely as tourists, despite the football ban.

Greece’s left-wing opposition party Syriza criticised authorities, saying police failed to control Dinamo supporters.

“The Croatian hooligans, who have a long history of links with the far right and violent attacks, crossed the country with one thing in mind – to cause trouble,” Syriza said.

“Were they kept under surveillance by the Greek authorities? Were any preventive measures put in place along their route?”

Dinamo condemned the incident.

“Such events are not in line with the values ​​and ethics we promote as a club and community,” the team said in a statement published on their website on Tuesday.

Fan violence

The incident comes in the week before Manchester City and Sevilla fans come to Athens for the UEFA Super Cup game, which is the traditional season-opener between the title holders of the Champions League and Europa League. The game is being played at Piraeus, a port city in the Athens urban area.

Violence has marred a number of previous Greek football matches, and last year the government increased the maximum sentence for crimes of fan violence from six months to five years after another stabbing death.

Alkis Kampanos, 19, was killed in February 2022 in the northern city of Thessaloniki during a fight between supporters of the city’s rival clubs Aris Thessaloniki and PAOK.

Last month, seven defendants were found guilty of his murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Five others received sentences of more than 19 years for complicity.

It was the third death due to fan violence in a three-year period in Thessaloniki alone.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies