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Oct 17, 2012

Serbia denies racism charge

The Serbian Football Association on Wednesday denied there were any racist chants before and during the England under-21 match in Krusevac and said English player Danny Rose behaved in an "inappropriate, unsportsmanlike and vulgar manner" toward their fans.

Rose had earlier called for Serbia to be banned after complaining of racial abuse and being hit by missiles during his side's 1-0 win on Tuesday. The England defender said he had been subjected to monkey taunts long before the violent and chaotic scenes which marred the end of the Euro 2013 play-off.

In a statement on its website, the Serbian FA said: "(The) FA of Serbia absolutely refuses (sic) and denies that there were any occurrences of racism before and during the match at the stadium in Krusevac."

The statement continued: "Making connection between the seen incident -- a fight between members of the two teams -- and racism has absolutely no ground and we consider it to be a total malevolence. Unfortunately, after the fourth minute of the additional time and the victory goal scored by the guest team, unpleasant scenes were seen on the pitch.

"And while most of the English team players celebrated the score, their player number three, Danny Rose, behaved in inappropriate, unsportsmanlike and vulgar manner towards the supporters on the stands at the stadium in Krusevac, and for that he was shown a red card."

The Football Association reported "a number of incidents of racism" to European governing body UEFA after the match. The British government is now urging UEFA to impose "tough sanctions" against Serbia, and the decision could be influenced by similar problems in the past.

Rose was sent off after the final whistle for kicking a ball in anger in response to provocation as scuffles broke out involving Serbian supporters, players and other officials.

Rose told Sky Sports News: "I remember getting slapped twice and then I got ushered away. That's when I kicked the ball -- and the referee sent me off. I don't understand, the game had finished by then but he still sent me off for kicking the ball.

"As I went off again there was monkey chanting, but the monkey chanting started long before I got sent off. After 60 minutes my head wasn't really on the game. They have to be banned. I don't understand how else they can learn from it, they have to be banned.''

The Serbian FA maintains they made the England fans and team feel welcome throughout the duration of their stay in the country but following the brawl in the final stages they will now launch an internal investigation.

The racial abuse that black English players suffered during a soccer match in Serbia wasn't the first time such problems have occurred at the hands of Serbian fans.

UEFA President Michel Platini had warned Serbia in February 2011 of possible expulsion of its clubs and the national team from international competitions if its notorious fans continued to cause trouble. Platini personally issued the warning during a meeting with Serbia's former President Boris Tadic in Belgrade. In 2007, the Serbian Football Association was fined a small amount after supporters racially abused England players at the under-21 Euros in Holland.

The nation's soccer fans are notorious for causing trouble at home and abroad. UEFA awarded Italy a 3-0 win over Serbia after a European Championship qualifier in Genoa, Italy, in 2010 was stopped when Serbia supporters threw flares and fireworks onto the field, burned a flag and broke barriers. Police then clashed with Serbian fans outside the stadium. A Belgrade court last year convicted 14 Serbian fans and sent them to prison for the fatal beating of a French soccer fan in the capital before Partizan Belgrade's Europa League soccer match against Toulouse, France, in September 2009.

Soccer fan organizations in Serbia have been infiltrated by extreme right-wing groups who propagate anti-Western xenophobia and intolerance toward foreigners, blacks, ethnic groups and minorities, including gays. The notoriety of the fans dates back to the wars in the Balkans when they were recruited to fight rival Bosnian Muslims and Catholic Croats as paramilitary forces, including the late warlord Zeljko Raznatovic's "Arkan's Tigers." Groups of soccer fans also have allegedly been involved in drug trafficking and other illegal trade.

Despite repeated pledges to crack down on violent soccer fan groups, Serbia's authorities have done little to prevent such problems. Instead, they have repeatedly bowed to threats from such groups, including when police cancel gay pride marches after extremists threaten to attack them.

Serbia's fans are not the only troublemakers in the Balkan region. Platini has also warned Croatia of severe punishment if its right-wing extremist fans continue racial abuses against black players and chanting pro-Nazi songs that usually target rival Serbs. Despite repeated incidents since the warning last year, UEFA has only imposed financial punishments of the Croatian Football Association.

Information from The Associated Press and Press Association was used in this report.

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