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Euro 2016: Croatia fans throw flares onto pitch, delay match, draw ire of UEFA

Referee Mark Clattenburg had no choice but to clear the pitch after Croatian fans littered the field with flares late in the second half. (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach Livepic)
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Unruly crowds have been one of the defining features of UEFA Euro 2016. Croatia’s fanbase made sure the streak continued Friday, much to the chagrin of their team and the UEFA.

Fans of the Croatia national team lobbed a dozen flares onto the pitch in the second half of the team’s Group D match in Saint-Etienne against the Czech Republic. The flares resulted in a five-minute delay to clear the pitch with four minutes remaining in the contest. The match ended in a 2- tie. The on-field flares mark the second time in the tournament Crotian fans have interrupted play and put their team at risk of penalization from the UEFA disciplinary board. UEFA released a statement to Sky Sports, condemning the act and revealing disciplinary action may be forthcoming.

“Disciplinary proceedings will be opened tomorrow once UEFA has received the official reports of the match delegate and referee. UEFA strongly condemns such acts.”

During the delay, one of the flares is alleged to have struck one of the groundsmen attempting to clear the pitch; no flare-related injuries were reported. After the flares were removed and play resumed, the Czech Republic leveled the score with an equalizer on a penalty goal from Tomáš Necid. The penalty kick was triggered by a Croatian handball in the box at the 93-minute mark. Regarding the flares, Croatian Manager Ante Cacic told BBC he believed the actions were carried out by a small percentage of the fanbase and condemned the fans responsible for the delay.

“These are sports terrorists. This is maybe just a question about six to 10 individuals. I hope they can be identified and punished. I hope the Croatia FA is doing everything to prevent this, but it is impossible to avoid.”

Midfielder Ivan Rakitic apologized to fans and the UEFA when speaking with BBC, and former Croatia manager and current manager of West Ham Slaven Bilic also displayed disbelief in his statement, telling Sky News the Croatian leagues are often subject to such outbreaks.

“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 said.
“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.”

Croatia’s fanbase landed the national team in hot water earlier in the tournament, picking up charges from UEFA for setting off fireworks and storming the pitch in Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Turkey, whose fans were also charged with setting off fireworks. Last June, the football team was docked a point after a swastika was found carved into the field ahead of a qualifying match against Italy. The UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body will judge the fireworks and pitch-storming case against the Croatian Football Association at its monthly hearing July 21.

The Croatian fans’ actions follow the distractions caused by England and Russia fans. The two groups violently clashed in Marseille, France, prior to last Saturday’s 1-1 draw; both clubs were threatened with disqualification from the tournament if the fanbases did not quiet their behavior.

Euro 2016: England and Russia threatened with disqualification over violence

Croatia will next take on Spain Tuesday in what will be the team’s last match before the field is cut for the round of 16. The team currently sits in second place in Group D with four points. Spain leads the group with six.