Croatia desperately attempted to fend off a major diplomatic incident with Russia on Monday night, by sending home an assistant coach who posted a pro-Ukraine video which has enraged the host nation.
The Croats removed former international Ognjen Vukojevic, 34, from their delegation and also apologised for defender Domagoj Vida, who also contributed to the video which dedicated their quarter-final win over Russia to a country in a state of war with the hosts.
In the video, Besiktas defender Vida, who used to play for Dynamo Kiev, shouts ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ before assistant coach Vukojevic — who also had a lengthy spell with Dynamo — adds: ‘This victory is for Dynamo and Ukraine.
The phrases were used by anti-Russian politicians in Ukraine.
When Mario Mandzukic was asked on Monday night if the defender regretted his support for Ukraine, a Croatian Football Federation official intervened to say that the Juventus striker would not be answering.
‘There is no reason for the player to comment,’ he said. ‘We apologise if anyone reconstructed what was said as a message of support for the Ukraine. We would not want to make a story out of that.’
But the video, which was first posted to Facebook and has since appeared on YouTube, has so infuriated some Russian patriots that anti-Croatian songs have been sung in public spaces in the capital. And some analysts feel that Croatian fans’ safety may even be at greater risk.