ivan rakitić.jpg
Photograph: HINA/ Daniel KASAP / dk

Man of the match Ivan Rakitic apologized for the behaviour of Croatia fans which saw the Euro 2016 game with the Czech Republic interrupted in St Etienne on Friday.

"We have to say sorry to UEFA, to the Czech Republic, all the people at the match and all those around the world who follow football," Rakitic told reporters after the 2-2 draw.

With 87 minutes on the clock and Croatia leading 2-1, several flares flew from the block of Croatia fans onto the pitch and supporters started fighting among themselves.

UEFA have already said a disciplinary case will be opened against Croatia, and their history of fan problems means the punishment is likely to be severe.

In qualifying for the Euros, Croatia were deducted a point after a swastika was marked in the pitch with a chemical agent for their game against Italy in Split in June 2015.

Friday's incident elicited a response from Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, who blasted her country's hooligan fans and threatened to bring them to justice. 

"Bravo Fiery [Croatia]! Bravo Croatian fans! And to you, enemies of Croatia, haters of your own team and state, I say: You'll be held responsible both for this and the swastika! Shame on you!," she posted on her Facebook page.

The swastika incident led the European football body UEFA to deduct a point from Croatia, order it to play two matches without fans and pay 100,000 euros.

After Friday's match was restarted the Czech Republic equalized in the dying seconds of the game with a penalty to complete a comeback from two goals down.

"It would be stupid to find an excuse after the match was stopped, I don't want to do that but the situation was clear," Rakitic said. Coach Ante Cacic also said his side lost concentration in the break.

Croatia had been by far the better team for most of the match, with the prompting of the magnificent Luka Modric and the dynamic Rakitic ensuring they dominated the midfield.

Rakitic even bagged his first goal at a major finals, but Croatia missed several other chances to make the game safe - and paid the penalty when the Czechs scored completely against the run of play in the 76th minute to spark the comeback.

"Until they scored the first goal, they were not dangerous, not so aggressive and we were the much better team," Rakitic said.

"They deserved the penalty, it was clear handball. It was is strange situation, they took two points from us but I think we deserved to win."

Had Croatia held on to win, they would have been guaranteed to progress to the knock-out stages. They are still well placed in Group D but now may need to avoid defeat against leaders Spain on Tuesday to go through.

St Etienne could prove costly in more ways than one for the team, the national association, and the reputation of the country.

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