Last night in Kiev violent scenes marred the build up to a crunch Group H World Cup qualifier between England and Ukraine on Tuesday.
Police in the Ukrainian capital are investigating the incident as reports suggest 50 Ukrainian men wearing balaclavas ambushed a group of England supporters in a coffee shop, leaving three England fans hospitalized.
England national team manager Roy Hodgson has slammed the attack ahead of the game.
“Of course we deplore that, everyone deplores that,” Hodgson said. “I am certain all the people in Kiev deplore it as well. I don’t know the exact circumstances of the attack. But unfortunately these things can happen when football fans get together.”
Hodgson then went onto mention the great reception England received in Kiev during the European Championships in 2012.
“It was remarkable last year, the atmosphere,” Hodgson said. “And nothing of that nature occurred. Sadly it has occurred this time but I can only hope that our fans are not going to be put off by that and that the fans who did get injured aren’t that badly injured so they can attend the game.”
As England’s manager mentioned, the violent outburst took everyone by surprise after Englishman were greeted warmly in the Eastern European country during the summer of 2012 as the Three Lions twice played in Kiev at Euro 2012.
However the warm hospitality traveling English fans felt just over a year ago wasn’t present on Sunday evening. And during his pre-match press conference today, Ukraine’s head coach Mykhaylo Fomenko publicly apologized for the violence against England’s fans.
On Monday as more details begin to emerge from Kiev, it has been revealed that England fans were targeted specifically and tactically by a local gang. With flags and banners hanging outside the cafe, some local men grabbed the flags and ran around the corner. Some of the gathered England fans then ran after these men but were met with a group of 30-50 locals brandishing bottles, knives and wearing balaclavas.
Tonight in Kiev there is a huge police presence to try and stop any retaliation from the growing number of England fans arriving ahead of tomorrow’s massive clash. Just under 2,000 England supporters are expected to be in Kiev, as Roy Hodgson’s England side can take a huge leap towards World Cup qualification with a victory against Ukraine.
But with all the focus on these unsavory scenes in the streets of Kiev affecting the build up to the game, fans are wary of similar scenes breaking out inside the 70,000 capacity Olympic Stadium. Much will be done between now and kick off tomorrow to stop that from happening.
However one thing is for certain, a heated battle will take place on the pitch as both teams know three points will be a massive boost towards their hopes of qualifying for Brazil 2014. Let’s just hope that battling spirit doesn’t spill over into the crowd.