Croatia could face sanction for swastika pattern on field vs. Italy
SPLIT, Croatia -- Croatia could face punishment by UEFA after a swastika pattern could be seen on the pitch for its European Championship qualifying match against Italy.
The Nazi symbol was clearly marked in the middle of the half Italy was attacking in the first period of Friday's 1-1 draw.
Ground staff attempted to cover the symbol up during the half-time interval but were unable to do so and the Croatian Football Federation expressed its regret over the incident and confirmed the symbol had been emblazoned on the pitch up to 48 hours before the match took place.
"We apologise to all viewers, our guests from Italy and the players from both teams, for the Nazi symbol on the Poljud Stadium grass," Croatian Football Federation press officer Tomislav Pacak said.
"Technically speaking, 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 went on to reveal that 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 was already being played behind closed doors as punishment for racist chanting and crowd trouble by Croatia fans, which temporarily halted the November match between the two sides at San Siro.
"It's one of our problems and we are working to fix it,'' said Davor Suker, the president of the Croatian football association, of Friday's incident. "Unfortunately something happened tonight too, but we would prefer not to talk about it now, we'll talk about it from tomorrow.''
In a friendly with Italy in Livorno in 2006, around 200 Croatia fans formed a human swastika in the stands, positioning themselves to depict the symbol commonly associated with Nazi Germany. They also gave Nazi salutes.
Information from the Associated Press and Press Association was used in this report.