Crowd violence returned to haunt European football on Tuesday when Italy`s home Euro 2012 qualifier against Serbia in Genoa was abandoned amid a barrage of flares inside the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
Only six minutes of play in the Group C match were possible before Scottish referee Craig Thomson took the players from the pitch after the kickoff had already been delayed for 35 minutes when Serbian fans launched flares and scaled partition fences.
The ugly scenes completely overshadowed a busy night of action on the continent in which Spain, the Netherlands and Germany all preserved their 100 percent records, Turkey suffered a surprise defeat in neighbouring Azerbaijan and England were booed after drawing 0-0 at home to surprise package Montenegro.
Resurgent France chalked up a third consecutive victory to top their group while Russia and Greece also took maximum points to stay on course for the finals in Poland and Ukraine.
Italy stayed top of Group C despite their match being called off but they and Serbia face an anxious few days as UEFA examine the shameful events that took place on the Mediterranean coast.
Rumblings of something sinister were already in the air long before kickoff when Serbia`s goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic withdrew from the side on the way to the stadium after apparently being abused by his own supporters.
Italian fans booed the Serbian national anthem before kickoff in an increasingly hostile atmosphere while home fans were targetted by flare-throwing Serbs. There were reports that Serb fans had even thrown a flare at their own team`s bus.
"It`s a great disappointment, there`s great bitterness," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli told a news conference. "The ground was full of children with so much enthusiasm."
Prandelli said Stojkovic, who has been targeted by fans over domestic club rivalries, had been inside Italy`s dressing room before kickoff to seek sanctuary.
"According to the Serbians we have spoken to, the aim of the Serbian fans was to stop the match," he said.
Serbian fans have a chequered history in Europe and the latest trouble comes a year after they clashed with riot police during a World Cup qualifier against Romania in Constanta.
While events unfolded in Genoa, David Villa scored his 44th goal for Spain in the 3-2 victory over Scotland in Glasgow to keep the world and European champions top of Group I.
Villa`s penalty just before halftime put him level with Raul at the top of his country`s scoring charts and when Andres Iniesta made it 2-0 early in the second half Spain appeared to be cruising to victory.
Scotland coach Craig Levein was mocked for his 4-6-0 formation against the Czech Republic on Saturday but his side showed more adventure and hit back to level at 2-2 before Fernando Llorente`s late goal put Spain top of Group I with nine points from three games.
Like Spain, Netherlands maintained their 100 percent record with an impressive 4-1 win over Sweden in Group E. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ibrahim Afellay both scored twice for the Dutch who have a three-point lead at the top after four games.
The one blemish for the Dutch was an injury to Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt who was taken to hospital with an ankle injury.
Germany also have maximum points in Group A which they lead by five points after a 3-0 victory in Kazakhstan. Striker Miroslav Klose took his tally to six in four qualifying games early in the second half after a goalless first period.
Euro 2008 semi-finalists Turkey are six points behind Germany after Guus Hiddink`s side slumped to a 1-0 defeat in Baku where Rashad Sadygov`s first-half goal gave Azerbaijan a rare win. Austria moved second in Group A after scrambling a 4-4 draw away to Belgium.
England`s free-scoring start to their Group G campaign ground to a halt at home to Montenegro -- who played with Serbia as one soccer nation until three years ago -- at Wembley as Fabio Capello`s side were booed off in a 0-0 draw.
The result means fifth seeds Montengero remain top of the group with 10 points from four games -- three points clear of England who have played three -- and have yet to concede a goal.
France maintained their improvement with a 2-0 victory at home to Luxembourg to top Group D.