The Football Federation of Macedonia (FFM) has called on UEFA to investigate the actions of Austria striker Marko Arnautovic and what he said to North Macedonia star Ezdjan Alioski.
The 32-year-old striker addressed the versatile Leeds United player after finding the net in Austria’s 3-1 win over the tournament debutants.
The talismanic Arnautovic had been introduced as a second half substitute and despite taking the ball away from opposition goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski before slotting the ball home one minute from time, it was his reaction after the goal which truly caught the eye.
Rather than celebrating or appearing happy that he had opened his account for the tournament, Arnautovic appeared to be angered and possibly antagonistic.
Arnautovic has denied using racist language in the incident, although his Austrian team captain David Alaba appeared to be attempting to restrain him.
Earlier on Monday, Arnautovic wrote on his Instagram account : “There were some heated words yesterday in the emotions of the game for which I apologise – especially to the people from North Macedonia and Albania.”
“I would like to say one thing very clearly. I AM NOT A RACIST! I have friends in almost every country and I stand for diversity. Everyone who knows me is aware of that.”
However, the football federation of Macedonia released a statement on Facebook on Monday evening calling for an investigation into the comments which they claim were directed towards Alioski.
The statement read: “The FFM strongly condemns the nationalistic outburst of Austrian player Marko Arnautovic, after a goal scored in yesterday’s match, addressed to Ezgjan Alioski.
“At the same time, we inform you that we have submitted an official letter to Uefa demanding the harshest punishment for Arnautovic.”
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“We are always against nationalism, discrimination and all other forms of insults and outbursts that are not in the spirit of football and values that we all stand together. We will always stand up and defend the interests and dignity of Macedonian national players wherever they perform.”
Arnautovic’s father is Serbian, and when previously facing that nation at international level with Austria, he is quoted as saying by Futbolgrad : “I am an Orthodox Christian, my father is Serbian, and I like hearing the Serbian anthem.”
The striker is also quoted as previously saying earlier in his career: “I want to play for Serbia.”
The political situation in the Balkans has been volatile and constantly evolving since the breakup of Yugoslavia, leading to increased tensions between its nation states – particularly between Serbia and both Albania and North Macedonia over the issue of the sovereignty of Kosovo.
This is not the first incident in international football which appears to be connected to this historically fragile situation.
In October 2014, a European Championships qualifier between Serbia and Albania was abandoned – with the visitors subsequently awarded a 0-3 victory – due to a series of off-field incidents, including a drone carrying an Albanian nationalist banner entering the field of play.
At the 2018 World Cup, Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri both escaped bans after their controversial celebrations during their nation’s victory over Serbia. The duo – who both had roots in Kosovo – celebrated by putting their hands together to form a double-headed eagle, similar to the one on the Albanian flag.