Closed doors fix­ture a re­minder of Croa­tia’s ills

Shanghai Daily - - SPORTS - (AFP)

CROA­TIA’S first fix­ture back on home soil af­ter reach­ing the World Cup fi­nal should be a home­com­ing for he­roes who de­fied the odds to carry a na­tion of just four mil­lion to the big­gest game in foot­ball. In­stead, not one fan will be al­lowed in to see their coun­try’s World Cup semi­fi­nal re­match with Eng­land at an 8,000 ca­pac­ity sta­dium in Ri­jeka for a Na­tions League clash on Fri­day.

The hosts are com­plet­ing a UEFA sanc­tion to play two games be­hind closed doors af­ter a swastika sym­bol was carved into the pitch dur­ing a Euro 2016 qual­i­fier against Italy in June 2015.

“It is not fair be­cause we will play against Eng­land, two World Cup semi­fi­nal­ists, and we must play with­out fans,” Croa­tia man­ager Zlatko Dalic said.

Just three months on from the highs of Rus­sia it is just the lat­est ex­am­ple of the clash between Croa­tia’s abil­ity to de­velop world class play­ers and the prob­lems it faces off the field.

The Italy match where the swastika ap­peared was also held be­hind closed doors as a pun­ish­ment for racist chant­ing against Nor­way in an ear­lier qual­i­fier. At Euro 2016 a match with the Czech Repub­lic had to be halted as flares rained down on the pitch from Croa­t­ian fans as a protest against their own foot­ball as­so­ci­a­tion.

“Croa­tia is a foot­ball phe­nom­e­non, a mir­a­cle on the field of play, but there are is­sues to be solved,” said UEFA pres­i­dent Alek­sander Ce­ferin. “The key prob­lems in Croa­tia are hooli­gan-re­lated in­ci­dents that can lead to dras­tic mea­sures, and rel­a­tively poor in­fra­struc­ture, com­pared to sim­i­lar coun­tries.”

FIFA’s re­cently crowned player of the year Luka Mo­dric was cas­ti­gated by fans in the build-up to the World Cup for his role in the case that saw for­mer Di­namo Za­greb chief ex­ec­u­tive Zdravko Mamic sen­tenced to a six-and-a-half year jail term for cor­rup­tion and em­bez­zling funds from the trans­fers of play­ers.

Mo­dric was even ac­cused of per­jury, but will not face pros­e­cu­tion.

That darker side of Croa­tia’s foot­ball fairy tale also reared its head just af­ter the World Cup fi­nal when the play­ers in­vited a singer known for pro-Nazi sym­pa­thies to join them on stage at their wel­com­ing party in Za­greb.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.