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Swastika on pitch overshadows Croatia Euro 2016 qualifier
Vandals who imprinted a swastika on the football pitch where Croatia played Italy will be found and punished, the president of Croatia said on Saturday. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic ordered an investigation into the incident, which has left Croatia's players and its football association fearing retribution from European football's governing body Uefa.
The swastika symbol was drawn in the grass at Split’s Poljud stadium with chemicals days before the kick-off and became visible during the match on Friday night.
“This act has inflicted immeasurable damage on the reputation of Croatian citizens and their homeland all over the world," said Grabar-Kitarovic in a statement released on Saturday.
“Therefore, we must finally put a stop to such things. I condemn in the strongest possible terms the swastika on the pitch. I demand an urgent investigation and a decisive response from the relevant institutions to find and process the perpetrators.”
Croatia were ordered by Uefa to play their Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy behind closed doors after being given a one-match ban for their fans’ racist chanting during a 5-1 home win over Norway in Zagreb in March.
That punishment followed incidents during a 1-1 draw against Italy in Milan last November when flares were hurled on to the pitch.
The result on Friday night in Split was again 1-1. Both goals came in the first half. The Lazio forward Antonio Candreva cancelled out Mario Mandzukic’s 11th minute opener for Croatia.
The stalemate was a success for the Italy coach Antonio Conte. The former Juventus boss was hit by injuries to key players Marco Verratti, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli in the prelude to the game. After the game he praised his players' resilience.
Croatia emerged from the match top of Group H with 14 points after six games. Italy remain second with 12 points. Norway, who are third with 10 points, failed to capitalise on the Split result as they were surprisingly held to a 0-0 draw in Ullevaal by Azerbaijan.
“This is a clear attack on football and we will without a doubt be severely punished,” HNS secretary-general Damir Vrbanovic said on Saturday. “We have all been slapped in the face by hooligans and it was not an accident. It was a calculated move. The cameras will identify the perpetrators, but the shame will stay.”
Uefa said on Saturday that it was awaiting the report of the match officials and its match delegate before deciding whether to open an investigation.