In a shocking turn of events, the Euro 2024 qualifier match between Belgium and Sweden was abruptly abandoned at half-time. The decision came in the wake of a tragic incident where two Swedish nationals were shot dead in central Brussels earlier on Monday.
The European Championship qualifier took place just 3 miles (5 kilometers) away from a shooting incident in central Brussels. Despite the proximity of the event, over 35,000 fans were present at the match. As the suspect remained at large and was believed to be targeting Swedes, Belgian authorities decided to hold the fans inside the King Baudouin Stadium for their safety. The evacuation began around midnight.
Inside the stadium, fans united in solidarity, chanting “All together, all together.” Supporters from both teams also energetically cheered “Sweden, Sweden!” after the game was paused.
Manu Leroy, CEO of the Belgian soccer union, revealed that he became aware of the serious incident in downtown Brussels just 10 minutes before the match started.
As of now, the gunman responsible for the tragic incident remains at large, adding to the tension and uncertainty in the area. The incident has not only disrupted the sporting event but has also raised concerns about security in the region.
The Belgium and Sweden football associations, along with UEFA, are expected to provide further updates on the rescheduling of the match and additional security measures.
The European Championship qualifier match between Belgium and Sweden was held amidst heightened security concerns due to a nearby shooting in Brussels. The decision to continue with the match was based on the belief that the stadium was the safest location for fans at the time.
Eric Van Duyse, the spokesperson for the federal prosecutor’s office, stated that the shooting might have had “a possible terrorist motivation.” He revealed that a claim of responsibility, suggesting inspiration from the Islamic State, was posted on social media by someone purporting to be the shooter. The Swedish nationality of the victims was suggested as a potential motive, but no connections to the Israeli-Palestinian situation were found. Immediate security measures were implemented to safeguard the Swedish supporters.
As the night progressed, fans remained calm and continued their chants. Manu Leroy mentioned that Swedish fans would be the last to exit, escorted by police to the airport. He emphasized the creation of a security corridor to ensure their safe departure.
This incident evoked memories of the 2015 attack at the Stade de France in Paris, where Islamic State extremists targeted a match between France and Germany.
UEFA confirmed the abandonment of the Belgium vs. Sweden match, stating, “Following a suspected terrorist attack in Brussels this evening, it has been decided after consultation with the two teams and the local police authorities, that the UEFA EURO 2024 qualifying match between Belgium and Sweden is abandoned.”
While Belgium had secured their place in the upcoming championships in Germany, Sweden’s chances were dashed after Austria’s victory earlier that day. The match was halted with a 1-1 score at half-time. Sweden’s coach, Janne Andersson, expressed his deep sorrow over the incident, questioning the state of the world.
In response to the situation, Belgium’s crisis center elevated Brussels’ threat level to its peak, advising citizens to minimize travel. The Swedish FA had earlier informed their supporters to remain in the stadium for safety reasons, urging them to stay calm.
Sweden had previously increased its terror alert in August following threats from Islamic militant groups in response to public Quran burnings by an Iraqi refugee in Sweden.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo associated the attack with “terrorism.” Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden confirmed the ongoing search for the perpetrator and her involvement in discussions at the National Crisis Center.
Sweden’s captain, Victor Lindelof, reassured that the players never felt threatened. He praised the security team’s efforts and saw no reason to continue the match, given the circumstances and the teams’ standings.
Information from Reuters was used in this story.