Croatia ordered to play Euro qualifier in empty stadium for racism

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UEFA has announced under its disciplinary decisions that Croatia must play its next home Euro 2016 qualifier behind closed doors for fan behavior in the team’s 5-1 thumping of Norway in Zagreb last month.

The decision could have major implications. Croatia’s next home match is against Italy on June 12, whom Croatia has a two-point lead over in Group H play. Now, the Blazers will be without their home support for what could be their biggest match of qualifying and just three total games to play in the group stage.

The UEFA disciplinary release listed “racist behavior of fans” and “setting off/throwing of missiles and fireworks” as the punishable offenses. The Croatian federation was also forced to pay a €55,000 fine ($58,700).

Local television broadcasts reportedly showed fans and riot police squaring off, though no injuries or violence was publicized.

The incident is troubling for Croatia, as the match against Norway was already played in a partially closed stadium stemming from their game against Italy at the San Siro back in November, where away fans twice caused the match to be stopped by throwing flares onto the field. The European governing body has looked to crack down on racism and rowdy fan behavior recently, with its leader Michel Platini foreshadowing a “return to the dark days” of racism as incidents increase. Russia has repeatedly struggled with a high volume of racism incidents, a sour point ahead of the 2018 World Cup to be held there.