Croatia game hit by flares, fighting among their own fans
ST ETIENNE: Croatia's Euro 2016 match against the Czech Republic was held up for several minutes after their fans threw flares on to the pitch and began fighting among themselves on Friday.
Eight flares and other objects landed on the pitch near to riot police, who had been deployed in front of the section housing Croatia fans.
One steward was knocked backwards after a flare exploded while he was trying to clear it from the pitch but he got up straight away and appeared unhurt.
The trouble broke out in the dying minutes of a game that Croatia were leading 2-1.
Croatia, sanctioned three times during the qualifying competition, are already facing a disciplinary hearing on June 21 after fans threw flares and ran on to the pitch during their opening match at the finals against Turkey in Paris.
Tournament organisers UEFA said disciplinary proceedings related to the latest incidents would be opened on Saturday once they had received the official reports about the trouble from the match delegate and referee Mark Clattenburg.
The English referee called the players to the centre of the pitch and consulted an official after the trouble broke out, while Croatia's players appealed for calm from the fans.
An announcement over the public address system at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard pleaded with the Croatia supporters to "leave the stadium and don't embarrass our country".
Play eventually resumed with the Czechs getting an equaliser with a penalty to salvage a 2-2 draw in the Group D match.
Angry coach Ante Cacic blamed the Croatian authorities for being too lenient with offenders and not doing enough to stop hooliganism which has been rife over the past decade.
"We were exposed to the terror of hooligans who have no place in sports arenas and I sincerely hope they will be identified and brought to justice," he said.
"They are terrorists, sports terrorists, a specific group. Unfortunately, they still exist and even enjoy some kind of support at home."
The drama left Croatia's frustrated players unhappy.
"We lost our pace when play was suspended because of our supporters," Ivan Rakitic, who made the score 2-0, said.
Ivan Perisic, who had put Croatia ahead, added: "I cannot understand why we have to waste out energy to calm our own supporters."
Cacic added: "They have been able to get away unpunished far too often, like when they caused crowd trouble in Milan (at a Euro qualifier in November 2014) and imprinted a swastika (on the pitch) at Poljud stadium (in Split)," he told reporters.
Croatia were repeatedly in trouble during the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign because of the behaviour of their fans.
Supporters threw dozens of flares on to the pitch and rioted during a game against Italy in Milan in November 2014, causing play to be suspended, and Croatia were ordered to partially close their stadium for their next home match against Norway.
That game at Zagreb's Maksimir stadium in March 2015 was in turn marred by racist chanting and Croatia were handed a full stadium closure by UEFA for the reverse fixture against the Italians at Split's Poljud stadium last June.
Two days before the match, unidentified perpetrators used a chemical agent to imprint a swastika on the pitch and it became visible during the June 12 qualifier.
That resulted in Croatia being deducted one point, ordered to play another two matches behind closed doors and fined 100,000 euros ($112,770.00) for the racist incident.