Zagreb (AFP) – Former Croatia international Ognjen Vukojevic has been kicked out of the World Cup semi-finalists’ delegation after posting a pro-Ukraine clip that caused a political row.
The Croatian football association (HNS) said Monday Vukojevic had been “relieved from his duties as an expert associate of the Croatia squad and is no longer a member of the Croatian delegation at the World Cup”.
The incident comes as Croatia prepare to face England on Wednesday with a place in the World Cup final at stake.
Following the quarter-final win over host nation Russia, Vukojevic posted an Instagram video featuring him and Croatia defender Domagoj Vida, who shouted “Glory to Ukraine!”
Vida used to play for Dynamo Kiev and Vukojevic also played for the Ukrainian club and now works for them as a scout.
In the video, Vukojevic added: “This victory is for Dynamo (Kiev) and for Ukraine! Croatia onwards!”
The clip was picked up by Russian state media and drew condemnation from some officials.
FIFA, which bans political statements at World Cup matches, said Sunday it had studied the video and decided to issue a warning to Vida but not take any further measures.
The Croatian football federation apologised to the Russian public for the “move by a Croatian delegation member.”
In a statement, it said Vukojevic and Vida “also apologise for statements which were not intended to have political connotations but left space for such interpretation,” the statement said.
Vida scored an extra-time goal in the match and converted one of Croatia’s penalties in the shootout win in Sochi.
“Glory to Ukraine!” was a slogan of the former Soviet republic’s pro-EU revolution that toppled a Russian-backed president in 2014.
The revolt was condemned as illegal by Moscow and sparked a crisis in relations between the two neighbouring states.
It was followed by Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and a pro-Kremlin separatist war in eastern Ukraine that has claimed more than 10,000 lives.
Vida issued a statement after the FIFA ruling calling the incident a misunderstanding.
The player had earlier said the message was “just a joke”.
Croatia play England in the semi-final on Wednesday.
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