Uefa will open disciplinary proceedings against Croatia on Saturday after their supporters threw at least 15 flares on to the pitch and fought among themselves during the 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic.
Mark Clattenburg, the referee, had to halt the game in Saint-Étienne for several minutes when flares landed shortly after the Czech substitute Milan Skoda scored in the 76th minute. Croatia were leading 2-1 when the violence erupted and were denied victory by a 94th-minute penalty, prompting the coach, Ante Cacic, and several players to blame a minority of their fans for the loss of two points. “These are not Croatian fans. They are terrorists,” Cacic said.
One steward appeared to be injured by a flare that exploded and other objects landed near riot police deployed in front of the Croatian section of the ground. Darijo Srna, the Croatia captain who played only days after the death of his father, pleaded for calm but his appeals were ignored as a small group of supporters, some in black T‑shirts and hooded jackets, launched repeated attacks on their compatriots.
Uefa will open disciplinary proceedings once it receives Clattenburg’s match report on Saturday. Croatia could be heavily punished after arriving at the European Championship with several hooligan issues during qualification.
A qualifying game against Italy in Milan in 2014 was temporarily suspended when Croatia supporters bombarded the San Siro pitch with flares. The return game at home was played behind closed doors following racist chanting in the previous qualifier against Norway. Croatia were docked one point by Uefa after a Swastika symbol was carved into the pitch before the Italy match.
Cacic and the Croatian Football Federation have been the target of protests – primarily from fans of Hajduk Split – due to the perceived influence on both the national and domestic game of the former Dinamo Zagreb chief executive Zdravko Mamic. Croatia were handed a two-game crowd ban last month from Fifa because of “discriminatory chants” during friendlies against Israel and Hungary in March. Davor Suker, the former striker who is now president of the Croatian FA, has spoken about the “very realistic possibility” of the team being kicked out of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers for repeat offences.
Cacic claimed after the game that the Croatian FA was aware of the threat of violence but there was a lack of will in the country and its media to confront the problem. The Croatia coach said: “What has happened was terrorism. They are hooligans, not supporters. Their place is not in the stadium but even people in the Croatia media were not happy with my comments about that before the game. It’s clear these people are hooligans. The same thing happened in Milan against Italy. There was the Nazi sign on the pitch – they are ruining what we are doing.
“They probably have support from somewhere but 95% of Croatians are ashamed in front of the whole of Europe. Our players are so sad. They are so proud to wear the Croatia shirt and play for the Croatian people and we are very sad after playing such a beautiful match.”
Cacic insisted his players lost concentration after the violence as they feared for family and friends who were in the stands. He said: “We knew there was threats that this could happen beforehand. They are sporting terrorists and there is nothing we can do. It hurts so much. The main problem is our country doesn’t want to mess with these kind of hooligans.
Former Croatia manager Slaven Bilic has warned there will be more crowd trouble. “It’s unbelievable what those people are doing. The majority of the fans are telling them to not do it. Some of them are there on a mission. It’s probably not the last time they’ll do it,” he told ITV.
“Back home it’s not the greatest league, but it’s competitive. When there’s a big derby between (Dinamo) Zagreb and (Hajduk) Split people are not taking their kids because they know it’ll be dangerous.”
Bilic also briefly outlined the issue fans have against the Croatian Football Association. He said: “Croatia rarely play in Split, in my hometown, and they think it’s all about Zagreb. It’s between the north and the south, Zagreb and Split - the two biggest clubs. Now Zagreb is becoming the biggest club in the Balkan area while Split has no money, no everything. That’s the issue without going into the details.”
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