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Platini Regrets Calling Italian Fans ‘Hooligans’

From Staff and Wire Reports

The World Cup’s chief organizer apologized Monday for a stadium public-address announcement that called Italian fans hooligans.

Michel Platini, former star of the French team and president of France 98, said that while he was referring to a small group of neo-Nazi fans in the Italian section at Saturday’s match against Norway in Marseille, it was wrong to label the crowd as street thugs.

“The word ‘hooligan’ in the announcement was certainly not the right one to use,” Platini said. “I know all about true Italian supporters, and I was always pleased with their behavior in stadiums throughout my career. I do understand that the majority of them were shocked by the announcement, and we apologize for that.”

The announcement, directed at the neo-Nazis, said in Italian: “Attention Italian fans. Don’t behave like hooligans. If you do, you will be treated like hooligans.”

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That angered the head of the Italian soccer federation, Luciano Nizzola. He was upset that fans from Italy, even though they might be fascist sympathizers, were grouped in the same category with the street thugs from England and Germany, who have stirred violence during the early weeks of the tournament.

An organizing committee spokesman said the neo-Nazi fans from Verona, an area of Italy with a sizable neo-fascist community, were stopped as they tried to take a flag with the swastika of Nazi Germany into the stadium. When they got to their seats, spokesman Bruno Travade said, the fans began “acting in an aggressive manner toward the people near them.”

“It was very insulting,” Travade said. “They were making politically insulting statements. These were neo-fascists, making Nazi salutes.”

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Authorities said no problems were reported after Germany’s match against Mexico in Montpellier. Many German fans chatted with police, who numbered almost 2,000, before and after the match.

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English fans are lamenting the image they have been given by a small number of hooligans.

Even some optimistic Englishmen fear there will be trouble in Saint-Etienne, site of today’s match with Argentina, and they know they will have to pay the price.

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“It’s a shame, isn’t it?” said Peter Ord, a fan in France who also is a Buckingham Palace guard, as he glanced at police in Lens with shin guards, helmets and shields. “Most people just want to see the match.”

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Italian players say they won’t be intimidated playing against the host country--and a stadium full of hostile fans--when they face France in the quarterfinals.

“I’m not afraid of the French public,” Christian Vieri said. “In any case, at no moment have they been for us. At Bordeaux, for our first game, three-quarters of the stadium were wearing the colors of Chile. Against Cameroon, the French at Montpellier took up the cause of our adversaries. For us to find ourselves again in a French stadium against the French, that won’t change anything much.”

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The Italy-Norway round-of-16 game was widely described as dull, and even fans of the victorious Italians booed.

Defender Fabio Cannavaro doesn’t care.

“The public didn’t find that it was a good game? Oh, good,” Cannavaro said. “I think it was more the Norwegians who weren’t good. In any case, when a team is coached by Cesare Maldini, people always reproach us for playing badly. But look at our route. At home, in the [Italian premier league], no one plays spectacular football. That doesn’t exist. If you score a goal, you think about playing defense. That’s our mentality.”

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Times staff writer Helene Elliott and the Associated Press contributed to this story.


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