Croatia crowd trouble fears overshadow Spain clash

Bordeaux (AFP) – Croatia can secure their place in the last 16 of Euro 2016 with just a point against two-time defending European champions Spain in Bordeaux on Tuesday.

However, fears over further disturbances from Croatian fans threatens the future participation of a richly talented squad including Real Madrid’s Luka Modric.

UEFA have brought charges after at least 10 flares were lobbed from the Croatian corner of the Saint-Etienne stadium during the 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic on Friday.

The disturbances sparked outrage in the Balkan nation with Croatia coach Ante Cacic branding the perpetrators “sports terrorists” and President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic describing them as “enemies of Croatia”.

Hardcore supporters of Croatian club Hajduk Split, suspected of throwing the flares in Saint-Etienne, have threatened on Facebook to also disrupt the next game against Spain.

Croatia ran into trouble with UEFA last year after a Nazi swastika symbol was drawn on a pitch before a Euro qualifier against Italy.

European football’s governing body ordered the country to play two Euro qualifying matches behind closed doors, deducted a point and fined the federation 100,000 euros over the incident.

Moreover, Croatia already face punishment over a firework thrown on the pitch and a fan who got on to celebrate during the country’s first Group D game against Turkey.

Violence around football in Croatia has increased in the four years since former Croatian international Davor Suker took over as head of the national federation.

Some fans believe Suker and the federation are too closely linked with controversial former Dinamo Zagreb boss Zdravko Mamic, a key figure in Croatian football.

Some accuse Mamic of abusing the game in Croatia for his own gains and are determined to embarrass the federation on the international stage as a result.

As if that wasn’t enough to cope with, Cacic could be without star man Modric.

The playmaker limped off against the Czechs with his side 2-0 up and in cruise control before a late collapse, in part caused by the flare chaos, set in.

“That was the main problem. Our concentration dropped when he (Modric) left the field,” said Cacic.

– Serene Spain –

Spain have no such worries after a scintillating start that has seen them already secure their place in the last 16 and installed ahead of world champions Germany and hosts France as bookies favourites.

Vicente del Bosque’s men needed a late Gerard Pique header to see off the Czechs in their opening game before an Andres Iniesta-inspired a 3-0 thrashing of Turkey.

“At this stage it is normal that they make you favourites. We have won the last two European Championships and also for the games in the past few days,” said Spanish midfielder David Silva.

Despite still needing a point to secure top spot in Group D and in theory a place on the easier side of the draw for the knockout stage, Del Bosque is expected to make up to four changes.

Sergio Ramos, captain for the opening two games, is expected to be one of those rested, as he is just one yellow card away from missing the last 16 through suspension.

In the other game in the group, the Czech Republic and Turkey have to win to maintain their hopes of progressing to the knockout stage in Lens.

Pavel Vrba’s Czechs could even steal second place from Croatia with a win allied to a Spain victory.

Milan Skoda and Tomas Necid are in contention to start after coming off the bench to score against Croatia.

Turkey need to win by multiple goals to have any chance of qualifying as one of the four best third-placed sides.

Coach Fatih Terim is set to keep faith with Barcelona’s Arda Turan despite the midfielder being booed by his own fans for his poor display against Spain.

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