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Oct 18, 2012

Serbian official urges action

BELGRADE, Serbia -- Serbia's sports minister is urging the formation of a high-level task force to combat fan violence after alleged racist chanting and brawls at an ill-tempered under-21 soccer match against England.

Alisa Maric says "recent events call for urgent action." She also urges restraint in punishing Serbia for the incidents.

Serbia was charged by UEFA with misconduct over racial abuse its fans allegedly hurled at England players from before kickoff in Krusevac on Tuesday. Both federations also face sanctions over a brawl between the teams that erupted after the match.

The match, which England won 1-0 thanks to a last-minute goal from Connor Wickham to complete a 2-0 aggregate triumph, was marred at the final whistle with scuffling on the pitch amid accusations of racism from the stands toward England left back Danny Rose.

Rose was sent off after the game had ended for kicking the ball away in anger at what he perceived was racist abuse from the crowd.

Serbia midfielder Nikola Ninkovic claimed the aggression he showed towards Rose was caused by his opponent's "inappropriate gestures" toward the home supporters.

"The guy three or four times made inappropriate gestures toward our fans," Ninkovic told Serbian newspaper Novosti. "I was angered by his reaction, so I rushed over to explain to him that he should not do that. I did not mean to hit him or insult him. I walked over to him and pushed him. A lot of his behaviour annoyed me but I know I was wrong and I know I will get a fine. I just hope it will not be too big.

"He received a red card and I got a yellow. That is probably an indication that his share of the story was significant."

Serbian FA president Tomislav Karadzic apologized Thursday for his players' involvement but claimed they were not solely to blame.

"We witnessed ugly and inappropriate scenes after the match in Krusevac," he said. "I take this opportunity to once again apologise to all fans of football and the English FA's delegation. The incident saw a fight which included individual players and members of the coaching staffs from both teams. I have sent an apology on behalf of our association as we hosted the match, not that I think it was only our fault."

Karadzic dismissed the notion that racism was a problem in Serbia.

"The Serbian people have never been, nor will be racist," he said. "Our history testifies to this and the crowd's reaction to the defeat should not be confused with one of the greatest evils of the modern era. We have great confidence in the authorities and UEFA to implement the correct procedures."

The English FA has sent UEFA a full dossier of evidence, including video footage and a catalogue of incidents which they reported to match officials during and after the match.

And FA general secretary Alex Horne has questioned whether they will play matches in Serbia again.

"We were shocked and appalled by the disgraceful events that occurred in Serbia," Horne said in a statement. "Our players and staff were subjected to racial abuse (and) violence as well as missiles being thrown at them throughout the match. What occurred is inexcusable and not acceptable.

"It is also clear that we must defend Danny Rose, who was sent off due to the frustration of being a target of racial abuse. FA officials made UEFA officials aware of racist abuse from sections of the crowd aimed at a number of England's black players at halftime. No football team should be asked to play in any environment where racial abuse, violence and threatening behaviour is prevalent. We must question the validity of sending a team to Serbia in the future.''

The cases will be dealt with at a meeting of UEFA's control and disciplinary body Nov. 22.

Norwich's Chris Hughton, the only black manager in the Premier League, called for UEFA to be "brave" and order national associations found guilty of racist abuse from supporters to play behind closed doors or be banned.

"This gives UEFA a really good opportunity now to stamp their authority on this situation. It is not the first time," said Hughton. "Fortunately here in England we have done a lot of good work and have reaped the benefits from it. However, it seems to be a situation in Europe which seems to be rearing its ugly head on a lot of occasions. There is an opportunity now for them to be big and brave, to stamp down on it and I sincerely hope they do, because it deserves it.

"What we have seen over the last few years are fines which are so minimal, they are no deterrent. The only way for it to be a deterrent, certainly abroad, is to play games behind closed doors and ban teams. Fines don't work, they are paid off very quickly and they are no deterrent."

Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill will assess Rose's frame of mind before deciding whether to throw him into the heat of a derby battle against Newcastle after his experiences in Serbia.

"I will give him the opportunity just to let things lie for a day or two and I will speak to him closer to the time and see what frame of mind he is in," O'Neill said. "You are hoping that young players who might not have experienced things like that there before can respond positively. I am sure he will do and hopefully at some stage or another, he will take it in his stride. But I would just really point out that everybody here at the football club, and I am quite sure at his own football club, is very much on his side."

Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas offered his support to Rose.

"It's extremely difficult for Danny," Villas-Boas said. "He was disappointed by that happening, by the situation which he had to live with, the atmosphere he was confronted with. I told Daniel I support him completely in this situation. He felt abused and this is obviously a serious matter which at the moment is in the hands of both FAs."

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

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