Security concerns over final

With sports-related violence between fans in various parts of Europe on a worrisome uptrend of late, this season’s Champions League final, to be hosted in Athens on May 23, is developing into a major security headache that threatens to overshadow the festive side of European club-level soccer’s biggest game of the season. The sense of urgency over security has risen further as a result of the dominance of English clubs in the competition this season. It can be said with certainty that at least one English club will play in the Athens final, and the reputation of traveling English fans has not been good. Just days ago, The Sunday Times ran a story highlighting security concerns ahead of the Athens final. Over the past six weeks, incidents involving English fans have been reported at Lens, Rome and Seville. In the latest trouble on Tuesday night, ugly pre-match violence broke out in northwest England as Manchester United prepared to take on AS Roma in the second leg of their quarterfinal clash. The police scuffled briefly with Roma fans outside United’s ground. Witnesses said Manchester United fans had tried to provoke their Italian counterparts but the police intervened swiftly to prevent trouble. Police confirmed that 21 people, 14 Britons and seven Italians, were arrested, but no injuries were reported. Twelve of the 14 Brits and four Italians face charges. Manchester United demolished Roma 7-1 for a remarkable 8-3 aggregate to advance to the semifinals, where the English side will meet either Bayern Munich or Milan. The pair was scheduled to play a second-leg encounter in Germany late last night after the first game ended 2-2. London club Chelsea, through to the semifinals after snatching a last-minute winner against Valencia on Tuesday, is expected to face fellow Brits Liverpool in the other semifinal. Liverpool was also due to play last night, at home against PSV Eindhoven with a seemingly unassailable 3-0 advantage. The two clubs to reach the finals will each be entitled to 17,000 tickets. With just weeks to go before the Athens final, and violence leading to fatalities in France, Italy, as well as in Greece this season – between rival Olympiakos and Panathinaikos fans, not far from a women’s volleyball match played between the clubs – UEFA, the Champions League organizer, is not hiding its concern. Without doubt, Greek police forces will need to be on high alert come May.

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