Croatian Football Federation apologises over swastika on pitch

Match in Split against Italy played behind closed doors after previous racist chanting

 

The Croatian Football Federation has apologised after a swastika could be seen marked out on the pitch during their European Championship qualifier against Italy in Split on Friday night.

The game at Poljud Stadium was played behind closed doors after Croatia were punished for racist chanting during their match with Norway in March, and the symbol could be clearly seen during the Group H encounter, which ended 1-1.

Ground staff attempted to cover over the symbol during the half-time interval but were unable to do so.

Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has called for a swift investigation and punishment for those responsible.

The Croatian Football Federation expressed its regret over the incident and confirmed the symbol had been emblazoned on the pitch up to 48 hours before match took place.

“We apologise to all viewers, our guests from Italy and the players from both teams, for the Nazi symbol on the Poljud Stadium grass,” federation press officer Tomislav Pacak said.

Chemical agent

“Technically speaking, a chemical agent was used on the field 24 to 48 hours before the kick-off, timed to be visible during the qualifying match.

“During the half-time, we have tried to remedy the situation to the best of our abilities, given the short amount of time.”

Pacak went on to reveal that Uefa had been notified about the incident and called on the police to bring those responsible to justice.

He added: “This was an obvious act of sabotage and a criminal act. We condemn it and ask the police and judicial bodies to find the person(s) responsible for what is a shame not only for Croatian football, but the entire country.

“Once again, we express regret and condemn this act, and we apologise to all the viewers, guests and players from both teams.”

Ms Grabar-Kitarovic called for a swift investigation into the incident.

‘Immeasurable damage’

“This act has inflicted immeasurable damage on the reputation of Croatian citizens and their homeland all over the world. Therefore, we must finally put a stop to such things,” she said in a statement released on Saturday.

“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the swastika on the pitch. I demand an urgent investigation and a decisive response from the relevant institutions to find and process the perpetrators,” Ms Grabar-Kitarovic said.

The swastika incident left Croatia players and the country’s soccer ruling body, the HNS, fearing drastic punishment from Uefa after the result left them top of Group H with 14 points from six games, two ahead of Italy and four clear of Norway.

“This is a clear attack on football and we will without a doubt be severely punished,” HNS secretary-general Damir Vrbanovic told a news conference on Saturday.

‘Slapped in the face’

“We have all been slapped in the face by hooligans and it was not an accident, it was a calculated move. The cameras will identify the perpetrators, but the shame will stay,” he said.

Croatia and Italy both stayed on course to reach Euro 2016 after a pulsating game which left Croatia top with 14 points from six games, two more than Italy who stretched their unbeaten run in European Championship and World Cup qualifying to 46 games.

Striker Mario Mandzukic gave Croatia a controversial 11th-minute lead before Antonio Candreva equalised with a cheeky penalty in the 36th.

Agencies

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