Bosnia soccer fans protest ahead of match against Israel

Police from both countries cooperate to secure ‘high risk’ game Friday; national team needs tie to advance in Euro 2016 qualifier

Bosnian soccer fans chant 'Palestine' at a protest in front of the hotel where players from the Israeli National Team were staying in Zenica, Bosnia, JUne 12, 2015, ahead of a Euro 2016 qualifier match between the two teams. (Screenshot)
Bosnian soccer fans chant 'Palestine' at a protest in front of the hotel where players from the Israeli National Team were staying in Zenica, Bosnia, JUne 12, 2015, ahead of a Euro 2016 qualifier match between the two teams. (Screenshot)

Hundreds of Bosnian soccer fans rioted outside a hotel where players of the Israeli National Team were staying ahead of a match against Bosnia in the Euro Cup qualifiers.

Bosnian fans lit flares and threw smoke grenades near the hotel in Zenica, according to a Ynet report. Bosnian police deployed hundreds of officers along the route from the hotel to the stadium ahead of the match, which begins at 9:45 p.m. Israel time (6:45 p.m. GMT).

A picture posted to Facebook of the protest showed the Bosnian fans stepping on an Israeli flag, and a separate video shows the fans shouting “Palestine” during their march.

Special units from the Israel Police were cooperating with their Bosnian counterparts ahead of the match, dubbed “high risk” by officials.

A security official from the Bosnia-Herzegovina Football Federation, Adis Hajlovats, confirmed to the Turkish Anadolu Agency that Israeli players and administrators would be protected by special police during their time in the country.

When the Bosnian team played against Israel in Haifa in November, the Bosnians lost 0:3.

Israel won its first three qualifiers but lost on its home turf to Wales and Belgium. It retains its third place in the group, trailing Wales and Belgium by two points. If it wins or reaches a tie on Friday evening, the Israeli team can qualify along with Belgium and Wales (the two top teams in the group qualify automatically along with the best third-place team.)

Bosnia’s coach Mehmed Baždarević complimented the Israeli team ahead of the game. “I’d be lying if I said I’m not worried,” he told Ynet.

“Still, I have faith in our players and think they can prove themselves. It’s important that we show professionalism and passion and play in a good mood. I have been following Israel’s players and we will be prepared. It’s hard to say which team is better and it would be insolence to claim we are better than a team to which we lost 0:3 not so long ago. Israel is a serious opponent, with players who have been playing together for a long time, but I am not afraid.”

The Bosnian team must defeat Israel to have a chance of passing on to the final tournament in France. The Bosnians’ defeat to Israel, Baždarević said, “reflected the motivation and inspiration on that day and not the power balance in general. It will be a battle of lions and I think we can prevail. If we get three points we will be back in the struggle,” he said.

In April, Bosnian soccer fans joined a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Vienna and shouted anti-Semitic epithets in one of the city’s central plazas.

A video posted to YouTube showed several dozen pro-Palestinian demonstrators waving Palestinian flags in Stephansplatz and calling “free, free Palestine!” The Bosnian fans dressed in blue, yellow and white were seen standing among the protesters and joining them in their cries, before setting out on a chant of their own: “Ubij, ubij Židove!” or “Kill, kill the Jews!”

Bosnians were in the city to watch a match between Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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