'Sports terrorists' to blame for flare disruption - Croatia coach Ante Cacic
Croatia manager Ante Cacic has hit out at the "sports terrorists" whose actions marred their 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic on Friday.
The match was delayed with five minutes to play, and Croatia 2-1 up, after a number of flares were thrown onto the pitch from the Croatian end.
Fighting appeared to break out among the Croatia fans too and the incident is another grim addition to a lengthy rap sheet.
"These are sports terrorists and they do exactly what they want -- it hurts so much," a clearly furious Cacic said in his news conference.
"I called them hooligans [in the past]. These are not supporters but hooligans. Their place is not in the stadiums. Even a part of the Croatian media was not happy with my comments but now it is totally clear that this is a group of hooligans, not supporters."
In November 2014, Croatian fans held up a Euro 2016 qualifier in Italy in similar fashion. Before the rematch in Split, a swastika could be made out on the pitch and Croatia were ordered by UEFA to play their first two home World Cup qualifiers behind closed doors.
"The same thing happened in Milan and we saw a Nazi sign on the pitch in [Split]," Cacic said. "They insist on ruining everything we are doing. They probably have some support from I-don't-know-where.
"Ninety-five percent of Croatian supporters have been ashamed in front of all Europe, and our players are also really sad after this happened. They are so proud to wear the Croatian shirt, they play for the Croatian people and we are very sad after playing a beautiful match."
Domagoj Vida conceded the penalty that levelled the match within moments of its restarting and Cacic suggested that his team, several of whom attempted to calm the supporters, had been distracted by the off-pitch turmoil.
"We lost some energy in calming the supporters and our players probably had some [friends and family] in the stands," he said.
"We were not focused on the pitch. I'm happy we did not lose the match."
Rakitic, who was handed the man of the match award, agreed with his manager and said events on and off the field were closely linked.
"I don't want to find an excuse but the situation is clear," he said. "After the match was stopped they scored a goal and this has a connection with everything.
"I think most of our fans are real supporters, but 10 individuals can make problems. It is clear that the Croatian FA are fighting against this. But we just have to say sorry to UEFA, the Czech Republic and all the people following this tournament who love football."
UEFA have already announced that disciplinary proceedings will be opened on Saturday against Croatia, whose final group game is against Spain on Tuesday.
Croatia are in good position to advance to the knockout stage, but Rakitic told HTV that he thought it was a possibility that Croatia could be expelled before they get the chance.
"We have to see if we will play against Spain, maybe they will send us home after this," he said. "There are a lot more fans that love the national team and they will not be able to see Croatia play.
"It is hard to say, but we feel more comfortable playing away... we were lucky that the match went on, the referee wanted to end it immediately."
Croatia President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said on Facebook after the match: "Bravo Vatreni [Fiery] Croatia fans. And to you the Croatian team haters I have a message for you: you will pay for this!
Recalling the June 2015 incident, she added: "As well as those who drew a swastika. Shame on you!''
Former Croatia manager Slaven Bilic told ITV there will be more crowd trouble to come. The current West Ham boss believes some of the country's fans have only travelled to Euro 2016 to cause trouble.
"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."
Bilic also briefly outlined the issue fans have against the Croatian Football Association.
"Croatia rarely play in Split, in my hometown, and they think it's all about Zagreb," he said. "It's between the north and the south, Zagreb and Split -- the two biggest clubs. Now Zagreb is becoming the biggest club in the Balkan area while Split has no money, no everything."
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.