Swastika incident costs Croatia in qualifying

UEFA deducted one point from Croatia in its European Championship qualifying group after a swastika was painted on the field before a match against Italy. (Darko Bandic/AP)

NYON, Switzerland — Croatia has been stripped of one point in its European Championship qualifying group after a swastika was painted on the field before a match against Italy.

The UEFA disciplinary panel made the deduction on Thursday and ordered Croatia to play its next two home qualifiers in an empty stadium. It hosts Bulgaria on Oct. 10, the only scheduled home match left in the Euro 2016 program.

UEFA also barred Croatia from playing qualifiers in Split, which hosted the 1-1 draw with Italy on June 12. The Croatian football federation must also pay a 100,000 euro ($110,000) fine.

Croatia’s federation described the punishment as "hard, the hardest in the history" of the association.

"This is the continuation of the heavy penalties inflicted on the Croatian association because of the hooligans’ behaviour," the statement said.

The federation can appeal to UEFA, and the governing body can also challenge the ruling. UEFA can ask its own appeals committee to impose a tougher penalty.

Still, Croatia will stay at the top of its six-team group even with the sanction. It now leads Italy by one point after six of 10 rounds.

The swastika was clearly marked in the middle of the half Italy was attacking in the first half. The match was played behind closed doors as punishment for racist chanting and other misconduct by Croatia fans at a previous Euro 2016 qualifier.

According to some reports in Croatia, the swastika was a fan protest against federation leaders and was intended to embarrass them by forcing UEFA to impose sanctions.

Croatia also has a core of right-wing supporters who identify with the World War II-era Ustasha regime.

Veteran defender Josip Simunic was banned for 10 matches, including all of the 2014 World Cup, by FIFA after leading fans in chanting an Ustasha slogan after Croatia won a playoff to qualify for the tournament.

After beating Iceland, Simunic took a microphone on the field and shouted to supporters: "To the battle, to the battle for the homeland!" The fans responded: "We are ready!"

In a friendly with Italy in Livorno in 2006, about 200 Croatia fans formed a human swastika in the stands.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.