- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

NYON, Switzerland (AP) - UEFA on Friday rejected Croatia’s appeal against the one-point deduction in its European Championship qualifying group after a swastika was painted on the field before a match against Italy.

UEFA upheld all its original decisions, meaning Croatia must also play its next two home qualifiers in an empty stadium, starting against Bulgaria on Oct. 10.

Croatia is also barred from playing qualifiers in the city of Split, which hosted the 1-1 draw with Italy on June 12, and the Croatian football federation must pay a fine of 100,000 euros ($110,000).

Croatia remains third in Group H after the sanction, four points behind leader Italy and two behind Norway after eight matches. Coach Niko Kovac was fired earlier this month after his side picked up only one point from its last two games, a 0-0 draw in Azerbaijan and a 2-0 defeat in Norway.

The swastika was clearly marked in the half of the field that Italy was attacking from kickoff. The match was played behind closed doors as punishment for racist chanting and other misconduct by Croatia fans at a previous Euro 2016 qualifier.

According to some media reports in Croatia, the swastika was a fan protest against federation leaders and was intended to embarrass them by forcing UEFA to impose sanctions. Croatia also has a core of right-wing supporters who identify with the World War II-era Ustasha regime.

Veteran defender Josip Simunic was banned for 10 matches, including all of the 2014 World Cup, by FIFA after leading fans in chanting an Ustasha slogan after Croatia won a playoff to qualify for the tournament.

After beating Iceland, Simunic took a microphone on the field and shouted to supporters: “To the battle, to the battle for the homeland!” The fans responded: “We are ready!”

In a friendly with Italy in Livorno in 2006, about 200 Croatia fans formed a human swastika in the stands.

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