Football: Croatia says warnings sent about Euro 2016 hooligan threat

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ZAGREB: Croatia’s football federation said Saturday that UEFA and French police had been warned that hooligans planned to disrupt the Euro 2016 match between Croatia and Czech Republic.

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At least 10 flares were lobbed from the Croatian corner of the Saint-Etienne stadium in the 86th minute of Friday’s game which was stopped for four minutes.

UEFA on Saturday opened disciplinary proceedings into the latest episode of fan trouble to taint the European Championship finals.

Croatia coach Ante Cacic branded the fans “sports terrorists” while President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic labelled them “enemies of Croatia.”

But the HNS national federation said it “did everything possible to prevent incidents.”

“Both UEFA and the French police were warned of hooligans’ intentions to interrupt it,” a federation statement said.

Croatia were leading 2-1 when referee Mark Clattenburg halted play. When the match resumed Tomas Necid’s penalty in stoppage time helped secure a draw for the Czechs.

The HNS official in charge of security, Miroslav Markovic, said the federation had a “tip-off” there would be incidents in the 85th minute of the match, the state-run HINA news agency reported.

The federation apologized to spectators at the match and the Czech squad. It said the Croat hooligans bears the “responsibility for all of us in Croatia.”

It also slammed Croatian authorities for failing for years to tackle the country’s hooligan problem.

“Inefficacy and lack of will to at least start resolving the problem incited the hooligans to continue with such acts,” the federation said. “The incident in Saint Etienne is indeed the result of this passive attitude of the Croatian state and today we are all hostages of a group of hooligans.”

The HNS urged UEFA and local authorities to help them root out hooliganism. The federation was to hold a press conference about the incident on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Miro Kovac said he would talk to his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault about security for Croatia’s next match against Spain in Bordeaux on Tuesday.

“We expect the French authorities to be effective and cooperate with Croatian police” over the issue, Kovac told reporters.

President Grabar-Kitarovic has meanwhile called a special government session on the issue.

Croatian football fans have a history of throwing flares at matches and chanting pro-Nazi slogans.

Ahead of Euro 2016, Croatian police sent a list of 326 potential troublemakers to France.

Hardcore Croatian fans are linked with the country’s two top clubs — Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split.

Hooliganism has increased over the past four years since former Croatian international Davor Suker took over the HNS.

Some fans believe Suker and the federation are too closely linked with controversial former Dinamo Zagreb boss Zdravko Mamic, a key figure in Croatian football.

Some accuse Mamic of unfairly profiting from football and have staged protests against the national team in response.

There were 8,000 Croatian fans in the Saint-Etienne stadium. Two Croats were arrested before the game, one for carrying a flare and the other on suspicion of stealing match tickets. AFP

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