Euro 2012: Racism overshadows semi-final preparations

By Iain Rogers, Reuters

Posted at Jun 27 2012 04:11 PM | Updated as of Jun 28 2012 12:11 AM

Racism again cast a shadow over Euro 2012 on Tuesday, providing an unwelcome distraction from the soccer as Spain and Portugal and Germany and Italy prepared to do battle for a place in Sunday's final in Kiev.

UEFA said it had opened disciplinary proceedings against the Spanish football federation (RFEF) and the Russian football union (RFS) for alleged racist behaviour and chanting by fans.

European soccer's governing body also fined the Croatian football federation (HNS) 30,000 euros ($37,400) after supporters set off and threw fireworks and displayed "inappropriate and racist banners" during a match against Spain, their second racism-related sanction of the tournament.

The issue of racism dominated the build-up to Euro 2012, which is being co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine and is the biggest sporting event in eastern Europe since the collapse of communism.

There were fears that fans from the host nations would cause problems but supporters of other teams have mainly been to blame, with UEFA taking its time to review evidence and act even with Russia and Croatia long gone from the tournament.

Amid the latest controversy, the four semi-finalists were making final preparations for Wednesday's clash between Portugal and Spain in Donetsk and Thursday's meeting between Germany and Italy in Warsaw.

Neutrals are hoping the heavyweight quartet, featuring talents of the calibre of Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta, Mesut Ozil and Andrea Pirlo, will serve up more exciting fare than some of the uninspiring games have offered so far.

Boring Spain

Holders Spain, in particular, have been accused of playing boring football, although they will not mind further criticism if they manage to keep Portugal captain Ronaldo quiet and get past their Iberian neighbours.

Playmaker Iniesta said Spain's short-passing possession method, which has yielded a European Championship and World Cup triumph, is not about to be ditched simply because some believe it is not entertaining.

"We have our own style, our own game which has brought us success," he told a news conference.

"We can't forget that a few years back we changed the history of Spanish football, nor can we forget the way that we did it."

The man likely to be tasked with stopping Ronaldo, right back Alvaro Arbeloa, had no illusions about the size of the task facing him.

"I know how hard it will be to stop him for 90 minutes, but it will be a beautiful challenge for me," said the right back, who plays with Ronaldo at Spanish champions Real Madrid.

"We all know how well he is playing at these Euros," added the former Liverpool man. "It is very hard to play against him, he is very confident, he is playing very well, but we will try to stop him."

Glowing endorsement

Germany, who lost 1-0 to Spain in the final of Euro 2008, will be looking to Bastian Schweinsteiger to nullify the threat posed by Italy's standout player Pirlo if Germany are to beat the Italians at a major championship for the first time.

Schweinsteiger will almost certainly start against Italy after receiving unequivocal backing from coach Joachim Loew despite a niggling ankle injury.

The holding midfielder, who was sidelined for a couple of days before returning to training on Monday, has yet to peak at Euro 2012 and has struggled with his movement and speed.

"Obviously he can do things better than against Greece (in the 4-2 quarter-final win) but we need Bastian," Loew told reporters.

"He is an emotional leader for us. He has matured unbelievably in the last three years or so. I think it is important for our team when Bastian Schweinsteiger is there."

The Germans lost an entertaining World Cup semi-final to eventual victors Italy on home soil in 2006 but are favourites to progress this time having won all four of their matches.

Injured Italy players Daniele De Rossi, Ignazio Abate and Giorgio Chiellini are undergoing intensive physiotherapy to try to be fit for Thursday's game.

Team doctor Enrico Castellacci refused to rule any of the three in or out on Tuesday, even remaining cautious on Chiellini's chances despite the centre back training normally after a thigh problem.