After Quiet Night, Lille Wary Over Fan Clashes at Euro 2016
LILLE, France (AP) — After a quiet night and morning in Lille, Russian and Slovakian fans gathered inside the city's stadium Wednesday for their match at the European Championship.
Russian fans have been warned to behave after unrest at their team's match against England last Saturday in Marseille. Any more trouble from them and UEFA has warned Russian soccer authorities the team could be thrown out of Euro 2016.
The potential for further unrest remains as a legion of English and Welsh supporters are in Lille ahead of their teams' match in nearby Lens on Thursday.
So far the mood in Lille has been largely calm and there have been seven arrests for public disorder. Among those arrested were Russians, Slovaks and a woman from Ukraine.
In the morning hours, dozens of Russian and Slovakian fans were peacefully walking the streets in the Villeneuve d'Ascq area, which is a 10-minute walk from the stadium.
In the hours before the game, fans from both nations mingled just outside the stadium and were taking pictures together. The match at the 50,000-capacity Stade Pierre Mauroy is not quite sold-out.
"Russia and Slovakia, we are close as nations," said Slovakia fan Maric Blesko, who is from Bratislava. "I don't think there will be problems between us. Brits and Russians, they always fight, the Western and the Eastern countries."
Security forces were a presence in the city, with 15 police vehicles lined up along the district's main road near a huge shopping mall. Visitors to the mall were checked with detectors before being allowed in. The city's security operation involves more than 2,000 officers.
Bilyal Kotkin, a Russian fan from Moscow, said Russian hooligans "need to be isolated. We need to close the borders on them because football does not go with force and violence."
Alex Abramov, another fan from Moscow who was getting his face painted in Russian flag colors on Wednesday, said what happened in Marseille was not uncommon back home.
"That's not normally every day but sometimes it happens in Russia," he said. "Everything will be OK we hope. I hope UEFA will not disqualify us."
English fans are aware of potential trouble ahead following the violence that marred the buildup to the match with Russia and the game itself.
"I think we have got to be careful," Rob O'Dell, an England supporter from Watford, said. "Everyone is going to be aware of what is going on. Hopefully the trouble will sort of subside a little bit. A lot of Russians will have gone home now."
Police deployed calmly, with a commander directing operations in front of the bubbling fountain at the Flanders train station.
Riot police commander Olivier Dimpre told reporters outside the Flanders station that they are looking for hooligan groups before they get into the town center, saying riot police were ready for any disorder.
"Everything that could be done has been done," Dimpre said.
At the nearby Europe train station, where Eurostar trains from London arrive, heavily armed soldiers were patrolling in groups of six, twice as much as in previous days. Many English fans were already boarding trains to move to Lens for Thursday's game.
AP Sports Writers John Leicester and Rob Harris and Associated Press writer Karel Janicek contributed to this report.
(Story by: Eric Willemsen, The Associated Press)