On the pitch it was a football game, but in the stands, fans were getting ready as if an all-out war was about to take place.
Sunday night's Euro 2016 qualifier, between Italy and Croatia at the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium in Milan, was marred by massive crowd trouble. A number of flares were thrown on the pitch and fires lit in the stands as the atmosphere around the stadium became so hostile that match referee Bjorn Kuipers halted the play. He took the players off the pitch before riot police were called in to restore order.
But the troublemakers continued to fire missiles on the field of play, resulting in a delay which lasted around 12 minutes. The play resumed when things finally calmed down a bit.
The game ended in a 1-1 draw but left a bitter taste. Much of the blame was put on the traveling Croatian fans, who happen to have a bit of a history of being rowdy and unruly.
Croatia coach Niko Kovac was also embarrassed by the behavior of their fans as he later said: “It’s not the first time and it’s not accidental. I hope the bodies in charge will find a way to solve the problem because it paints a bad picture of Croatia. I was ashamed and I apologized to the Italians after the game. There were families with children up there.”
Trying to make sense of the crazy scenes, former Croatian international Goran Vlaovic suggested that the fans might have been protesting against Croatia's local football authorities.
Football hooliganism was a major problem in Europe, but things have been brought under control over the years. However, it still continues to haunt the beautiful game in the Balkans, where fans use football events to vent their frustration over social and political matters. Just last month a near-riot broke out in the Euro 2016 qualifier between Serbia and Albania after a drone carrying a political statement hovered above the football field.
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