Why did Croatian fans use flares to disrupt their team's Euro matches?
This was the last thing UEFA needed. With a few minutes left and Croatia leading 2-1 over the Czech Republic, at least half a dozen flares were launched on to the pitch by Croatian supporters. ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti answers the big questions behind the flares and other flashpoints around Euro 2016.
Q: So, after Russian professional hooligans with their GoPros and fanny-packs and drunken sunburnt English fans, we get Croatian pyrotechnics enthusiasts. Some Euro, eh?
A: It's not quite that simple. As best we can tell, we're not dealing with professional fight club enthusiasts, like the Russian appeared to be. Nor is it a case of supporters who get a bit drunk and out of control. As far as we know, the flares were a conscious attempt by some Croatian supporters to embarrass the Croatian FA and, possibly, get Croatia kicked out of the Euros.
Q: Why would they want to do that? What kind of "supporter" wants to get his team thrown out? Isn't that the antithesis of "support'?
A: You'd think so, wouldn't you? In fact, an important chunk of Croatian fans have been unhappy at the state of football in their country for some time and, in particular, the actions of a guy named Zdravko Mamic and his friend Davor Suker.
Q: Suker, the former Real Madrid striker? What's he done?
A: Yes, the very same. He's the president of the Croatian FA. Mamic is the vice president of the Croatian FA and, for more than a decade, was the executive director of Dinamo Zagreb, Croatia's most successful club in recent years. He's also been involved in a number of transfers involving Croatian players, such as Dejan Lovren and Luka Modric. Mamic is accused of embezzling funds on transfers as well as tax evasion. His trial is set to start in September. He's out on bail in part because, reportedly, Suker helped put up the money. But some Croatian fans had been after him for him and Suker for a long time.
Q: How so?
A: They say the Croatian FA is corrupt and, in particular, Mamic treated Dinamo Zagreb like a personal fiefdom. They specifically said they want to embarrass the Croatian FA and get them into trouble.
Friday's flares were just the [latest] chapter in a row that's been going on for a long time. In November 2014, during a Euro 2016 qualifier in Milan against Italy, they set off a barrage of flares, forcing the referee to halt the game. They were made to play behind closed doors in an empty stadium as a result.
When they next faced Italy, in June 2015, someone used some kind of chemical herbicide to make an impression of a swastika on the pitch in the city of Split. Again, Croatia were punished.
And, in their opening game of the Euros, Croatia were sanctioned once more, this time because a flare was set off and a fan ran on to pitch to celebrate a goal.
All of this, like the flares against the Czechs, appears to be a calculated effort to get the Croatian FA in trouble. They're hoping the embarrassment will turn up the pressure and make Suker and Mamic resign, or, at least, that the world will pay attention to their cause.
Q: Is that likely?
A: I don't know. Mamic will get his day in court. As for Suker, he sits on UEFA's Executive Committee and isn't accused of any wrongdoing. UEFA opened disciplinary proceedings against Croatia (the charges relate to racist behaviour, crowd disturbances, throwing of objects on the field, and setting off fireworks) and will hear the case on Monday.
But there is a broader issue here. Many Croatian fans clearly feel disenfranchised over the way their domestic game is going and believe this is the way to vent their frustration.
Q: So what can UEFA do about this?
A: It's not UEFA's job to interfere with national FAs and their domestic disputes. All they can do is apply the rules. In this case, given Croatia's track record, it's hard to see how the Croatian FA -- and therefore the Croatian national team -- can avoid punishment. Which, of course, is exactly what the fans who launched the flares want. In that sense, UEFA are in a bit of a Catch-22. A points penalty is a possibility, as well as expulsion from the tournament.
That said, this is only one part of the story. There's a broader concern.
Q: What's that?
A: We went into this tournament under the threat of possible terrorist attacks. Touch wood, this hasn't happened. But we've had fans introducing flares and fireworks into at least four games: Russia versus England, Russia versus Slovakia, Croatia versus Turkey and Croatia versus Czech Republic. It's not that flares are a huge deal per se, though like all fireworks, they can be dangerous; it's that they're explicitly banned. With the tournament's supposed heightened security measures, this sort of thing should not be happening.
It's not lost on anybody: if you can successfully smuggle a flare into a stadium, you can smuggle in something far more dangerous, too.
That's why UEFA need to act. Whatever security companies they hired for the tournament need to be spoken to. And French law enforcement, who has the ultimate say over security procedures, needs to kick it up a notch.
The Croatian fans may have legitimate gripes against their FA, but this is obviously not the way to let the world know. UEFA can't worry about that right now. Their job is to make sure the stadiums are safe and that folks with explosive devices simply don't get in the front door.
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.