An ugly incident took place during Croatia’s 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic on Friday. When the scoreline was 2-1, Croatian supporters threw at least 15 flares on to the pitch and fought among themselves.
Mark Clattenburg, the referee, had to halt the game for several minutes in Saint-Etienne as flares being hurled onto the ground.
One steward appeared to be injured by a flare that exploded near him. Croatian skipper Darijo Srna and several other players urged the fans to stay calm but their appeals were ignored, as a minority section of supporters (some in black T‑shirts and hooded jackets) kept on launching attacks on fellow compatriots.
UEFA will open disciplinary proceedings on Saturday once they receive Clattenburg’s match report.
Croatia boss Ante Cacic claimed that the Croatian Federation was aware of the threat of violence but no measures were taken to counter the problem.
“They are not really Croatia supporters. These people are scary and I call them hooligans,” said Cacic after the match.
“These are sports terrorists. This is maybe just a question about six to 10 individuals. I hope they can be identified and punished. I hope the Croatia FA is doing everything to prevent this, but it is impossible to avoid.”
Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic, who scored the second goal for Croatia, said that they have to say ‘sorry’ to every people around the world who loves football.
“We have to say sorry to Uefa, sorry to the Czech Republic and to everyone around the world who loves football,” he said to the reporters.
“Most supporters support this team and are real supporters. But 10 individuals can make all these problems. It is clear that the Croatian FA and [Croatian FA president] Davor Suker are fighting against this.”
The Croatian FF have been the target of protest primarily from Torcida of Hajduk Split and Bad Blue Boys of Dinamo Zagreb (fans group). The interruption of the match was planned long ahead, the schemes were published on Facebook and Croatian intelligence agencies had even warned the French police days in advance.
Croatia fans have a history of trouble. In recent years, Croatia had been fined, punished on several occasions due to disturbances like riots, clashes with the police, racism and the pitch invasion.
Last year, UEFA had ordered the country to play two Euro qualifying matches behind closed doors. A point was deducted and the federation was fined 100,000 euros after a swastika symbol was mowed into the Split stadium field before the Euro 2016 qualifier match against Italy last year.
Such incidents are a recurrent theme in Croatian football: FIFA suspended Croatian defender Josip Simunic for 10 matches in 2013 for leading fans in a “pro-Nazi” chant after they qualified for the 2014 World Cup.
These are not random acts from a few drunken, dunderhead supporters, rather they are planned and properly organised to highlight an agenda that has long plagued Croatian football.
The problem runs too deep. A section of Croatian supporters (mainly the extremist group or the Ultras) are unhappy with how the Croatian Football Federation being run. There is a strong feeling that corruption has infiltrated so deep that fans do not care anymore. A group of supporters are trying to get their message across, force their way, even at the cost of humiliating their nation in front of the whole world.
The anger is mainly directed against Zdravko Mamic, who is the de facto director of the Croatian FF and Dinamo Zagreb football club. Aleksandar Holiga, a reputed journalist working for the Guardian, notes “Croatian football is run by a criminal, Zdravko Mamić, and his puppets. They are hypocrites, fake patriots and thieves.”
Even former Croatian player Davor Suker, who is the formal president of the Croatian FF and a member of the UEFA Executive Committee, is not a popular figure amongst the ultras.
Mamic is a powerful figure in the Croatian football. He has been accused of several wrongdoings in the past like purchasing referee decision, tax evasions and setting up unfair player contracts.
Not only he doesn’t allow supporters to participate in the club’s decision making but he is powerful enough to interfere with the Croatian national football. There are claims that he often takes the decision (was seen giving instructions to coach Cacic before the match) which players should be picked.
Mamic was jailed multiple times but it is hard to prove the allegations against him. He has been ordered to stay away from club duties but remains an integral part of the federation.
Croatia may get away with a large fine and a warning but there are chances they could be barred from participating in World Cup 2018 qualifications.