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 By Reuters

Croatia sack staff member Ognjen Vukojevic over 'glory to Ukraine' message

ZAGREB -- Croatia's Football Federation (HNS) has expelled Ognjen Vukojevic, a member of the national team's World Cup delegation, over a "glory to Ukraine" video posted after Croatia beat Russia in the World Cup quarterfinals.

Vukojevic and Croatia defender Domagoj Vida published the video on social media after the match on Saturday in a move which was criticised by Russian politicians and led to a warning from FIFA's disciplinary committee.

Relations between Ukraine and World Cup hosts Russia remain fraught after the latter's 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula and its backing for a pro-Russian uprising in the east of the country.

HNS said it had revoked Vukojevic's accreditation at the World Cup and relieved him of his duties as an observer for the Croatia squad.

"HNS hereby apologises to the Russian public for the actions of a member of the Croatian delegation," it said.

HNS said Vukojevic and Vida apologised for their statements, saying they were not intended to be political messages but "unfortunately left room for such interpretations."

The video shows Vida, who scored against Russia, shouting "glory to Ukraine" before Vukojevic adds "this win is for Dynamo and Ukraine ... go Croatia." Both Vida and Vukojevic previously played for Ukrainian club Dynamo Kiev, and Vukojevic is now a scout there.

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"I don't want to be a burden to our team ahead of the extremely important semifinal match of the World Cup, at the moment when the most needed thing for the national team is peace," Vukojevic told Croatian state broadcaster HRT, saying he intended the video as a personal greeting to Ukrainian friends, not as a political statement.

"However, I do understand that my statements can be differently interpreted,'' he said. "Because of this, I am sorry -- and I do apologise to the Russian public, if they perceived my statements like this. I am very proud of Croatia's achievement at the World Cup and I wish the boys all the best luck in the following games.''

FIFA later handed Vukojevic, who was also a former player for Spartak Moscow, a fine of $15,000 and a warning for unsporting behaviour.

Questions on the subject were not allowed when Croatia players Mario Mandzukic and Andrej Kramaric spoke at a news conference in Moscow later on Monday.

"We have been quite clear on the matter, that is the position of the federation and we don't need to ask the players," a Croatia team spokesman said.

Croatia face England in the World Cup semifinals in Moscow on Wednesday.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.


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