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Prime minister May joins England players in calling for strong punishment

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LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday urged soccer authorities to take strong action against Montenegro after England players faced a torrent of racial abuse during a European Championship qualifying match.

UEFA charged the Montenegro Football Association over its fans’ racist behavior in Podgorica on Monday night after England players Callum Hudson-Odoi and Danny Rose complained about being targeted with monkey chants during the team’s 5-1 victory.

UEFA’s anti-discrimination group had sent a monitor to the game because there was judged to be a “high risk” of racism and their evidence will now feed into a disciplinary case that will be heard on May 16 by European soccer’s governing body.

The treatment of England players was debated in the House of Commons between discussions about the Brexit deadlock and there was an intervention from May’s Downing Street office.

“The abuse England players were subjected to last night was disgusting and completely unacceptable,” said James Slack, the prime minister’s spokesman. “It is right that UEFA are now investigating. We urge them to do this quickly and to take strong and swift action.”

In a sign of the extent of the racism problem in European soccer, UEFA announced a separate investigation on Tuesday into abuse aimed at Hudson-Odoi while playing for Chelsea. UEFA said it appointed an inspector to assess a complaint by Chelsea that the 18-year-old winger was targeted with racist insults by Dynamo Kiev fans during the London club’s 5-0 win in Ukraine in the Europa League.

“It is a disaster,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said of racism in European football. “I cannot believe these people still exist.”

In the Montenegro incident, the Fare network which monitors discrimination at games in Europe will provide evidence which could lead to a partial or full stadium closure for the team’s next Euro 2020 qualifier in June against Kosovo.

“We had an observer present who picked up evidence of racial abuse,” Fare said in a statement. “Our monitoring team have been compiling the evidence we have before presenting it to UEFA.

We commend the reaction of the England players involved, no human being should have to face abuse and vilification for their race or identity, something that many Montenegrins will understand from the divisive and bloody recent history of the Balkans.”

In one unsavory incident, England winger Raheem Sterling cupped his ears after scoring England’s fifth goal and Montenegro fans responded with jeers before an object — reportedly a lighter — was thrown onto the field. It was picked up by Hudson-Odoi.

“All of us know what skin color we are,” Sterling said after the game. “It’s not like you are telling us anything new.”

Hudson-Odoi, in another post-match interview, mimicked the monkey chants he and Rose heard.

“We hope that UEFA will act decisively, the sanctions that could be applied for an offense of this kind range from a partial stadium closure to full stadium closure,” Fare said in a statement. “These sanctions are being applied regularly for offenses in UEFA competitions, often against resistance from supporter groups and football stakeholders.

“The challenge of tackling racism and other forms of discrimination in European football however remains an ongoing issue. The societal change and education that is the ultimate solution is slow to take place. Even in the countries of Western Europe where there has been investment and focus on these issues, discrimination remains a stain on football.”

The Football Association of Montenegro said it was only “alleged” there was “racist behavior of few spectators” but committed to identifying anyone deemed responsible and banning them from all matches in the country.

“At the matches played by our respective national teams until now, we have not had any incidents related to religious, gender or racial discrimination and we are fully convinced that there will not be any such incidents in the future,” the federation said. “In a multicultural and multiethnic society as Montenegro is, there is not any space for such conduct, which was the feeling most intensively experienced by our guests from England during the previous two official matches they played in Podgorica.”

The English Football Association said much work is required to eradicate racism across the game.

“The issues we saw last night are not isolated to any specific country, and despite progress English football still has its own incidents of discrimination,” the FA said.

“Our experience is that by combining both sanctions and education, whilst working alongside campaigners such as Kick It Out, real progress can be made.”

After being racially abused, England’s players want hefty sanctions

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England’s players were subjected to racist abuse in Montenegro on Monday, as monkey chants and other racist comments were directed at several black players in the Three Lions squad.

[ MORE: UEFA charge Montenegro ]

Speaking after the game, Raheem Sterling and Callum Hudson-Odoi both hit out at the racist abuse of Danny Rose as Hudson-Odoi (making his full England debut at the age of 18) was also subjected to monkey chants from sections of the home fans.

“It’s unacceptable. I don’t think there should be discrimination no matter where you go, no matter what. It’s not right in football, at all,” Hudson-Odoi said after the 5-1 win for England. “We should be all playing fair, have a good game and enjoy ourselves but to hear that it’s not right and hopefully UEFA deal with it properly.”

England manager Gareth Southgate spoke passionately and eloquently on the topic, as his main aim is to protect his players and help them any way he can.

“I’m reflecting on ‘should I have done more?’ In the end, I think I tried to protect my players as much as I possibly can. I’m not the authority on the subject. I’m a middle-aged white guy speaking about racism,” Southgate said. “It’s not something I really have… I’m just finding it a really difficult subject to broach. I want my players to enjoy playing football and not be scarred by the experiences.”

What can be done to eradicate the racist abuse England’s players, and sadly, many others, have suffered on the pitch?

Small fines and one-game stadium bans are clearly not working, as UEFA have dished them out on multiple occasions in Russia, Slovakia, Romania and Serbia in recent years. Sterling is calling for longer stadium bans to punish all fans.

“It’s now time for the people that are in charge to put a real stamp on it because you can fine someone but what’s that going to do?” Sterling said. “You’ve got to make it harder – you’ve got to punish all the fans so they can’t come to the games, you’ve got to do something that’s really going to make them think twice. Because if their team can’t play with fans it’s going to be difficult for them and make them think twice about it.”

Southgate added that education of young people in societies across the globe — he was keen to point out that English soccer must get their own house in order too — is the only way to truly halt the shocking racist abuse.

“Sanctions are only of any use if they lead to education. Sanctions are worthless if there is nothing alongside that to help educate people,” Southgate added. “My kids don’t think, for one minute, about where people are born, what language they speak, what color they are. There’s an innocence about young people that is only influenced by older people. So we have to make sure the education is right for everybody, in our country the same.”

Back on the pitch, many believe that players subjected to racist abuse should simply walk off the playing field and the game should be forfeited. Stadium bans of 12 months would do plenty more damage than the current one-game bans dished out halfheartedly. Southgate is 100 percent correct.

This is not just about sanctions, it is about society and educating people. UEFA and FIFA are custodians of the game and must use their vast resources, along with national associations and clubs, to put programs in place to educate youngsters. This will not be a problem that is solved overnight in soccer or society. The future generations must know that this kind of behavior is abhorrent and the likes of Sterling is leading the calls for authorities to come down hard on anybody found guilty.

Small fines and minimal stadium bans haven’t worked. There has been some progress, but not enough. Heavier sanctions are needed. Now.

UEFA in particular have stood still for too long. We are in 2019. England’s players should not be the ones taking this sickening abuse head on.

Southgate, Sterling respond to racial abuse in Montenegro

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England manager Gareth Southgate was left fuming when he heard Montenegro fans chanting monkey noises in the direction of Danny Rose.

“I know what I heard,” he said following England’s 5-1 comeback win in Podgorica.

[ MORE: EURO qualifying wrap ]

“I definitely heard abuse of Danny Rose when he got booked at the end of the game. There’s no doubt in my mind that happened and we’ll report it to Uefa. It’s not acceptable. We have to support our players.”

Racism has continued to rear its ugly head just about everywhere this season, including at a Premier League ground when supporters from Chelsea were suspended for targeting Raheem Sterling.

Southgate said he had not spoken with Sterling or Callum Hudson-Odoi to see if either was targeted Monday in Montenegro, but Sterling grabbed his ears to the visiting fans after scoring late in a “monkey” gesture he’d later explain on Twitter.

EURO qualifying: France tops Iceland; England win marred by racism

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England and France made sure their EURO 2020 qualifying stayed on script, completing 6-point starts to the campaign on Monday.

[ MORE: USMNT-Chile preview ]

Montenegro 1-5 England

Sloppy English defending allowed Legia Warsaw man Marko Vesovic to put Montenegro ahead at Podgorica City Stadium, but the Three Lions sound found their footing.

Michael Keane scored his first England goal before Ross Barkley redirected a Callum Hudson-Odoi strike eight minutes later to give Gareth Southgate‘s men a 2-1 lead at the break.

Barkley completed his brace when Montenegro keeper Stefan Savic pushed a clearance of a Raheem Sterling cross back toward the Chelsea man. Harry Kane and Sterling also scored for the Three Lions.

Unfortunately, Danny Rose and several of his black England teammates were targeted by racists.

France 2-0 Iceland

Samuel Umtiti was the surprise goal scorer, heading home a Kylian Mbappe cross as hosts France were only able to break down Iceland on one occasion until the 68th minute.

That’s when Olivier Giroud moved into third place all-time on the French goal scoring list, behind only Michel Platini and Thierry Henry. The Chelsea man was in position to score when goalkeeper Hannes Thor Halldórsson made a mess of Benjamin Pavard’s cross.

Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann would also score in the win.

Giroud has six fewer goals than Platini, and is 16 behind Henry’s 51.

Elsewhere
Portugal 1-1 Serbia — Ronaldo hurt
Kosovo 1-1 Bulgaria
Luxembourg 1-2 Ukraine
Andorra 0-3 Albania
Turkey 4-0 Moldova

England kicks off Euro 2020 qualification in style

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It’s been nine months since the 2018 World Cup, but England looked as if it picked up where it left off in Russia.

The Three Lions opened their Euro 2020 qualification on the right foot with a 5-0 win over the Czech Republic on Friday at Wembley Stadium. Raheem Sterling carried his terrific form in front of goal into the international game, finishing with a hat trick. Meanwhile, Harry Kane scored once and picked up a hockey assist on England’s opener as he set the play in motion.

[READ: USMNT ratings vs. Ecuador]

It was the kind of performance England fans have longed to see against Europe’s weaker sides, though in the past England had been unable to break those opponents down. On Friday, just about everything went to plan.

In the opening minutes, England set the tone with their attacking 4-3-3 approach, especially with fullbacks Kyle Walker and Ben Chillwell getting up into the attack. Kane unlocked the Czech Republic defense in the 24th minute with a terrific pass to find Jadon Sancho in space in the box, which you can see in the graphic below. Sancho quickly slid a ball across the face of goal that Sterling slid home to put England up 1-0.

Just before halftime, Sterling was involved again as he was bundled down in the penalty box, leading to a penalty kick. Kane stepped up and cooly dispatches the ball in for England’s second.

In the second half, as the Czech Republic tried to push forward, that left space open in behind. Dele Alli slid a ball into the box for Sterling, who’s initial attempt was blocked. However, the ball popped out to his left and Sterling curled a strike home with terrrific poise. Sterling put a bow on his terrific performance with a strike that took a heavy deflection off Ondrej Celustka and found the net.

Less than two years after winning the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, Callum Hudson-Odoi made his England debut replacing Sterling. The debut is significant, as Hudson-Odom hasn’t started a league match yet.

In the 84th minute, a Chelsea connection led to England’s fifth goal. Sancho dribbled through the middle of the field diagonally before finding Hudson-Odoi out left. The youngster cut inside and fired a strike on goal that was saved by Czech goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka. But the rebound off Pavlenka’s save was somehow put into his own goal by Czech defender and former Chelsea signing Tomas Kalas.