ZAGREB: Croatia’s football federation has apologised after a swastika could be seen on the pitch during their European Championship qualifier against Italy in Split last night.
Remarkably, the game at Poljud Stadium was being played behind closed doors after Croatia were punished for racist chanting during their match with Norway in March but the symbol could be clearly seen on TV coverage during the Group H encounter, which ended 1-1.
Ground staff attempted to cover the symbol up during the half-time interval but were unable to do so and the 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.
Spokesman Tomislav Pacak said: “We apologise to all viewers, our guests from Italy and the players from both teams, for the Nazi symbol on the Poljud Stadium grass.
“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 said 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.”
The match ended 1-1 to maintain the status quo with Croatia top of Group H.
Mario Mandzukic handed the hosts the lead, before Antonio Candreva converted a penalty.
Neither side could find a winner in a second half where Croatia captain Dario Srna was sent off for a second bookable offence at the death.
Also in Group H Ivelin Popov fired the only goal to hand Bulgaria 1-0 victory in Malta, while Norway slumped to a 0-0 home draw with Azerbaijan.
Iceland go top
Iceland moved top of Group A with a 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic, with Aron Gunnarsson and Kolbein Sigthorsson on target for the hosts.
Boreck Dockal responded but the Czechs were unable to stop Iceland leapfrogging them to take control in the standings.
Holland dragged their own qualification battle back on course, stuttering for the most part but finally despatching Latvia 2-0 in Riga.
Guus Hiddink’s men cemented third spot in Group A thanks to late goals from PSV team-mates Georginio Wijnaldum and Luciano Narsingh.
Turkey boosted their precarious qualification chances courtesy of a shaky 1-0 victory in Kazakhstan.
The visitors moved on to eight points, Arda Turan firing the winner seven minutes from time.
Defeat leaves Kazakhstan rooted to the foot of Group A with one draw and five losses from their six qualifiers.
In Group B Gareth Bale fired Wales into the box seat for Euro 2016 qualification, claiming the only goal in a hugely-creditable 1-0 victory over Belgium in Cardiff.
The Real Madrid star pounced on a defensive error to slot his 17th Wales goal on his 50th cap and send Chris Coleman’s side top of the table.
Wales overhauled Belgium to seize the summit in the standings, to the delight of home fans at the Cardiff City Stadium.
For all their stars Belgium were unable to turn the tables on Wales after that 25th minute goal, Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and company suffering their first defeat in qualifying.
Wales remain undefeated however, and fully on course to qualify for the finals.
Cyprus cut the gap on Israel in the fight for third spot, courtesy of a 3-1 victory in Andorra.
Cyprus won thanks to a hat-trick from Nestor Mytidis, that allowed them to make light of Junior Dossa Momade’s second-minute own goal.
Bosnia Herzegovina inflicted a 3-1 defeat on Israel, allowing Cyprus to draw level on points with their rivals.
Edin Visca scored twice and Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko also netted as Bosnia eased past Israel, who could only respond through Tal Ben Haim Jr.
# # # #