Croatia apologise after swastika appears on pitch

Saboteurs drew swastika on Split pitch before Euro qualifier.  Picture: AFP/Getty
Saboteurs drew swastika on Split pitch before Euro qualifier. Picture: AFP/Getty
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The Croatian Football Federation has apologised after a swastika could be seen 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.

‘The Italian coaches had achieved great success here earlier’

Ground staff attempted to cover the symbol up during the half-time interval but were unable to do so and 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 the 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,” Croatian Football Federation press officer Tomislav Pacak said.

“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 he 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.”

• Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has left Italy’s squad after injuring his right knee against Croatia.

The Azzurri captain exited the match at half-time after playing with ten stitches in his knee following an injury on the opening goal.

Buffon also saved a penalty by Mario Mandzukic.

Salvatore Sirigu, who replaced Buffon against Croatia, will likely be the starter for Tuesday’s friendly against Portugal in Geneva.

Meanwhile, midfielder Daniele De Rossi could return after sitting out the Croatia match with a minor injury.

Midfielder Marco Verratti, defender Andrea Barzagli and striker Simone Zaza withdrew with injuries earlier in the week.

• Brazil’s former 2002 World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has taken over at the helm of Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande as the latest in a parade of top managers who have been attracted to the big-spending club.

The 65-year-old, who signed a two-and-a-half year contract, assumes the mantle from Italy’s former World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro and said he planned to maintain the team’s winning traditions while tweaking its game where necessary.

“We don’t have any pressure at all although the Italian coaches had achieved great success here earlier,” Scolari said at a presentation ceremony on Friday in the southern city of Guangzhou, in China’s manufacturing heartland near Hong Kong.

Prior to Cannavaro, Guangzhou were coached by Marcello Lippi, who had won the 2006 World Cup with Italy in Germany, and went on to win three Chinese league titles and one Asian Champions League crown in his two and a half years in charge.

Scolari, whose Asian football experience includes spells in Japan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, said he had been in touch with Guangzhou going back to 2011.