Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Sports

Troubles continue for Croatia

PARIS — Croatia fans have a habit of disrupting and delaying matches at the European Championship.

On Friday, they added another ugly chapter to that history during Croatia's 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic.

Firecrackers exploded on the field in Saint-Etienne and burning flares rained on the turf, spewing smoke across the stadium — just as they did at all three Croatia matches at Euro 2012. The referee, Mark Clattenburg, stopped the game briefly Friday. A steward reached to pick up one of the items thrown onto the field when it exploded, knocking him off his feet. There was no report if he was injured.

Exactly why it happened, which provoked clashes among Croatia fans themselves, was not immediately clear. UEFA said it will hold open disciplinary procedures against Croatia.

"Bravo Vatreni (Fiery) Croatia fans. And to you the Croatian team haters I have a message for you: You will pay for this!" Croatia President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic said on Facebook.

Croatia fans have long been linked to far-right incidents. Groups from outside Zagreb have also opposed the widely unpopular Croatia soccer federation, which is based in the capital city and led by Davor Suker, the former Real Madrid player who remains Croatia's top goal scorer of all time.

Friday's incidents occurred in a section of a stand segregated for Croatia fans, to the side of one goal from where fireworks were thrown.

UEFA has already imposed a fine on the federation for previous incidents. More punishments could be applied, too, possibly for Euro 2020 qualifying.

UEFA already deducted a point from Croatia in Euro 2016 qualifying when fans created a swastika image on the field before a home qualifying match in Split. It was unclear if the swastika was due to fans expressing far-right views or a more calculated attempt to embarrass and shame the federation by forcing UEFA to act.

Croatia has had a core of right-wing supporters who identify with the World War II-era Ustasha regime. In a notorious incident, veteran defender Josip Simunic was banned for 10 matches, including all of the 2014 World Cup, by FIFA after leading fans in chanting an Ustasha slogan after Croatia clinched its qualifying place.

Croatia is routinely forced to play in empty stadiums when hosting World Cup and European Championship qualifiers after far-right chants and songs are reported to FIFA and UEFA.

More on EURO CHAMPIONSHIP: At Nice, Alvaro Morata scored twice as defending champion Spain cruised to a 3-0 victory over Turkey to qualify for the knockout stage. Turkey faces a fine from UEFA after its fans used flares and a smoke bomb in the stands, and repeatedly threw firecrackers onto the field, after the final whistle. At Toulouse, Eder's late goal gave Italy a 1-0 win over Sweden and a spot in the round of 16.

COPA AMERICA: David Ospina made a flying kick save in a shootout, Christian Cueva sent Peru's final attempt over the crossbar and Colombia reached the semifinals for the first time since 2004 with a 4-2 win on penalty kicks after a scoreless tie at East Rutherford, N.J. Colombia plays Wednesday in Chicago against the tonight's Mexico-Chile winner. At Houston on Tuesday, the United States faces tonight's Argentina-Venezuela winner.

U.S. APPEAL: The U.S. Soccer Federation has appealed the red card given to midfielder Jermaine Jones and a yellow card to forward Bobby Wood, who are both suspended for Tuesday's Copa America semifinal. Jones was given the red Thursday in a quarterfinal win by Colombia referee Wilmar Roldan during a confrontation that also saw Ecuador wing Antonio Valencia sent off after a second yellow card for a harsh tackle on Alejandro Bedoya. U.S. players rushed to the scrum after Valencia's tackle, and Jones raised an arm at Arroyo.

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