Sweden players were returning to their clubs Tuesday after taking an overnight flight home from Brussels following the suspension of their European Championship qualifier at halftime because a gunman killed two Swedish nationals before kickoff.
It remained unclear Tuesday whether the match would be completed at a later date. European football’s governing body UEFA said it was too early to make any decision and that “further communication will be made in due course.”
Belgium and Austria have qualified from Group F for the tournament to be held in Germany next year, but both teams can still win the group.
The squad went directly to the airport and flew back to Sweden once they were allowed to leave King Baudouin Stadium, which was locked down for two and a half hours for security reasons before officials began an evacuation process around midnight local time.
It was around 4 a.m. local time when the last of the Swedish supporters — totalling about 650, according to the Swedish Football Association — left the stadium under police surveillance, along with some staff from the federation.
All hotels where Swedish supporters were staying were also guarded by police, the federation said.
The Swedish FA confirmed to The Associated Press that the national-team players were now making their way back to their clubs.
The Belgian team said it was “still devastated” by what had happened.
“We want to thank all the fans in the stadium for their understanding and support in these difficult circumstances,” the Belgian Red Devils said on social media. “Our thoughts are with the Swedish, we hope everyone gets home safely.”
The suspect in the shooting was shot dead by police on Tuesday morning, Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden said, and the weapon believed to have been used by the man has been recovered.
Swedish FA officials said information about the shooting incident, which also led to another Swedish national getting seriously injured and taken to hospital, reached them just before the match began and that Belgian authorities and police considered the game should be played because the stadium was viewed as the safest place for the Swedish fans.
A decision was made to halt the match at halftime.
Martin Fredman, the federation’s head of security, said about 400 Swedish fans “received help during the evening and night.”
“The cooperation between supporters, federations and authorities has worked very well in an extremely stressful situation,” Fredman said.
More than two hours after the game was suspended, a message flashed on the big stadium screen saying, “Fans, you can leave the stadium calmly.” Stand after stand emptied onto streets filled with police as the search for the attacker continued.
“Frustrated, confused, scared. I think everyone was quite scared,” said Caroline Lochs, a fan from Antwerp.
Brussels mayor Philippe Close told La Premiere radio that the game had not been regarded as a high-risk match.
Sweden raised its terror alert to the second-highest level in August after a series of public Quran burnings by an Iraqi refugee living in Sweden resulted in threats from Islamic militant groups.
“We were (alerted) to the context in the Middle East, but not to the burnt Qurans,” Close said. “Objectively speaking, we have to admit that.”
Belgium international player Thomas Meunier, who did not play on Monday, shared his thoughts after the match.
“Let’s have a prayer for the victims and the people badly influenced by the wrong teaching of religion. May God help them to find the right way,” Meunier wrote on social media.
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