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ESPN FC  By Dale Johnson

Swastika could cost Croatia automatic qualification to Euro 2016

A swastika on the pitch has cost Croatia the point they earned in the draw against Italy.

A swastika marked on the pitch during one of Croatia's qualifiers could mean they lose out on an automatic berth at Euro 2016.

The Croatian Football Federation (HNS) was docked one point because of the racist behaviour of their fans during the 1-1 draw with Italy in Split in June. Television pictures of the game showed how a swastika had been drawn in the middle of the half Italy were attacking in the first half.

The match against Italy was itself being played behind closed doors as punishment for racist chanting and other misconduct by Croatia fans at a previous Euro 2016 qualifier.

Without the one-point penalty, Croatia would definitely have finished in the top two in Group H win a win over Malta. Even if Norway win in Italy, Croatia would have moved up to second on goal difference with Italy pushed down into third.

Also, there is one automatic berth for the best third-placed nation across the nine groups, and as it stands Hungary will take that place. They have 15 points and a goal difference of +3. However, Croatia would be on 15 points with a goal difference of +12 were it not for the one-point deduction and would go into Tuesday's final games guaranteed to finish ahead of the Hungarians (though there is a combination of results that gives Turkey 16 points).

So automatic qualification is now out of their own hands, but Croatia can avoid the playoffs and finish second in their group if they win at home to Malta and Norway fail to defeat Italy. If Norway do get the three points, then Croatia's one-point penalty will come back into focus ahead of a two-legged playoff in November.

According to Associated Press reports in Croatia, the swastika was a fan protest against federation leaders and was intended to embarrass them by forcing UEFA to impose sanctions.

Dale Johnson has been an editor and journalist at ESPN for 18 years. You can follow him on Twitter @dalejohnsonESPN.

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