Malta arraigns Croatians for violence before Euro qualifier

VALLETTA, Malta (AP) A Maltese court has arraigned six Croatians on charges related to violence prior to Tuesday’s European Championship qualifier between Malta and Croatia.

Police are still investigating another 14 Croatians who were arrested in connection with the Group H match, during which Croatia qualified for Euro 2016 after a 1-0 win. Croatian fans had been barred from the stadium.

The six fans arraigned Wednesday were arrested Monday night following a bar brawl. They admitted to charges of causing disturbance and damaging a bar, and will be sentenced Thursday.

The Malta Football Association said last week that following an agreement with UEFA and the Croatian football federation, no Croatian fans would be allowed in the Ta’ Qali National Stadium for the game.

The Croatian association supported the ban in hopes of avoiding incidents that could get the national team thrown out of the competition.

In all, though, 20 Croatians were arrested. Nine were arrested Tuesday after police searched their temporary residence and found objects linked with hooliganism, such a metal rods, a police spokesman said.

On Tuesday night, a number of Croatians tried to enter the stadium, and another five were arrested then.

Croatia was docked one point in qualifying and ordered to play two matches in an empty stadium after a swastika was painted on the field before a match against Italy earlier this year.

According to some media reports in Croatia, the swastika was a fan protest against federation leaders and was intended to embarrass them by forcing UEFA to impose sanctions.

Croatia also has a core of right-wing supporters who identify with the World War II-era Ustasha regime.

Veteran defender Josip Simunic was banned for 10 matches, including all of the 2014 World Cup, by FIFA after leading fans in chanting an Ustasha slogan after Croatia won a playoff to qualify for the tournament.

In a friendly with Italy in Livorno in 2006, about 200 Croatia fans formed a human swastika in the stands.