GDANSK, Poland (AFP) –
Croatia coach Slaven Bilic on Sunday slammed racist fans and called for them to be banned from football after Italy’s Mario Balotelli was abused during the two countries’ Euro 2012 match last week.
Croatia face Spain at Arena Gdansk in Group C on Monday bidding to qualify for the last eight at the European championships.
But a cloud hangs over Bilic’s team following allegations that up to 500 Croatia fans directed racist chants at Balotelli during Thursday’s 1-1 draw in Poznan, Poland, before he was substituted.
An AFP photographer positioned in front of the fans also saw a steward pick up a banana from the pitch.
UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary Body will announce its decision on Tuesday over what the organisation said was “the improper conduct of supporters (racist chants, racist symbols)”, with the country potentially facing a stiff penalty.
Former West Ham and Everton defender Bilic has said those responsible should be banned from watching football and their behaviour cannot be tolerated.
“My opinion is this is a big problem around Europe and around the world,” said the 43-year-old.
“In the name of our nation, not just our team, I am really disappointed about this as a Croatian, as a parent, as sportsman, as a person who comes from a modern, open-minded tolerant state.
“I don’t like this kind of supporter, neither do my players. I don’t even want them in the stadium.
“We are not a racist country, everyone is welcome, which is why we are angry at these crazy supporters and we have to minimalise this.
“We have to sanction these supporters and we must do everything we can to try to stop this kind of supporter for ever.”
Croatia could face heavy sanctions form the same committee who imposed the threat of a six-point reduction on Russia’s next European championship qualifying campaign, after crowd trouble at their opening Group A match with the Czech Republic.
Missiles and fireworks were thrown on to the pitch during the match in Wroclaw, southwest Poland, on June 8, while four volunteer stewards who were attacked after the final whistle required hospital treatment.
Croatian football chiefs have appealed to UEFA for leniency and said they backed efforts to stamp out behaviour that tarnishes the game’s image.
“The Croatian Football Federation appeals to UEFA not to punish the Croatian national team… and not to associate it with a section of fans who actually are not supporters but hooligans who should be isolated from all sports events,” it said.
The federation “distances itself from all deviant behaviour on the part of the fans during… Euro 2012 and strongly condemns it”.
Croatia has already been in the dock at Euro 2012.
On Friday, UEFA fined the federation 25,000 euros ($31,400, 20,000 pounds) after fans lit flares and let off smoke bombs to celebrate goals in their opening match.
Missiles were also thrown and a spectator got on to the pitch in Croatia’s 3-1 win against the Republic of Ireland, which was also held in Poznan.