Croatia sacks assistant coach ahead of World Cup semis

By Satuk Bugra Kutlugun

ANKARA (AA) – Ahead of Croatia's World Cup semifinal clash against England this Wednesday, its assistant coach Ognjen Vukojevic has gotten his walking papers after wading into the Ukraine-Russia controversy.

The Croatian Football Federation on Monday published a statement saying: "Vukojevic has been relieved of his duties as an associate of the coaching staff of the Croatian national team by decision of the management of the Croatian FA, and he will no longer be a member of the Croatian delegation at the FIFA World Cup in Russia."

Vukojevic and defender Domagoj Vida celebrated Saturday’s quarterfinal victory against Russia with a video containing pro-Ukraine slogans such as "Glory for Ukraine" and "This is for Dinamo Kiev."

"Vukojevic published a controversial video on social media after the match between Croatia and Russia in the quarterfinal of the FIFA World Cup. The FIFA have opened a disciplinary procedure on the matter," the statement said.

"The Croatian Football Federation (HNS) has decided to revoke Vukojevic's team accreditation at the FIFA World Cup and to relieve him of his duties as an observer for the Croatian national team," it added.

Vida was also under FIFA investigation for his pro-Ukraine celebration, but the defender managed to escape a ban from FIFA, as he received a warning from football's governing body.

Vida left his former club Dinamo Kyiv and joined Besiktas last season, a Turkish club Vukojevic also once played for.

The Croatian Football Federation “hereby apologizes to the Russian public for the actions of a member of the Croatian delegation," the statement added.

"Ognjen Vukojevic and Domagoj Vida likewise apologize for their statements, which were in no way intended to have political connotations, yet which unfortunately left room for such interpretations," it said.

Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 led Western powers, including the U.S., to impose sanctions on Moscow.

Along with the UN General Assembly, the U.S., the EU, and Turkey also do not recognize Crimea as Russian territory.

Since the annexation, Ukraine has been wracked by conflict in its eastern regions with Russian-backed separatists, leading to more than 10,000 deaths, according to the UN.