MILAN (Reuters) - Croatia, helped by a mistake by veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, held Italy to a 1-1 away draw in their Euro 2016 qualification clash on Sunday, but their evening was ruined by their fans who twice interrupted play by throwing flares onto the pitch.
The contingent of around 5,000 Croatia fans stopped play for around three minutes after their team's equaliser in the first half. The second incident was more serious and the players were led off the field for 10 minutes as more flares landed on the field, filling the San Siro stadium with smoke. Television pictures showed Croatia fans clashing with riot police who tried to quell the trouble.
"It's not the first time and it's not accidental. I hope the bodies in charge will find a way to solve the problem because it paints a bad picture of Croatia," said coach Niko Kovac. "I was ashamed and I apologised to the Italians after the game. There were families with children up there."
Former Croatia forward Goran Vlaovic suggested it was a protest against the Croatian FA. "If this is aimed against the Croatian football federation, it's not the best way to express discontent because at the end of the day, football and the national team suffers," he told Croatian television.
At one point, it seemed there could be a repetition of the Euro qualifier in 2010 when Italy's match against Serbia in Genoa was called off after seven minutes because of crowd trouble caused by visiting fans. In 2005, a Champions League tie between rivals AC Milan and Inter Milan at San Siro was also abandoned in the second half when Inter fans threw flares onto the field.
Italy went ahead with their first attack in the 11th minute when Simone Zaza laid the ball back to Antonio Candreva and the bearded midfielder placed a low, powerful shot just inside the post from 25 metres, his first international goal.
They led for four minutes before Ivan Perisic made space on the edge of the area and blasted a low shot which Buffon, making his 146th appearance, misjudged and allowed to go under his body. Both teams have 10 points from four games and top Group H.