Spain hunts for fans who racially abused England players

The Spanish government responded to diplomatic pressure from Britain yesterday by starting a search for fans who racially abused England players during a "friendly" football match with Spain.

The government said it was working with football authorities to find the "small number" of fans at the Bernabeu stadium in Madrid who aimed monkey chants at black England players, including Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips.

The barrage of abuse during Wednesday night's game prompted ministers to demand an apology. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, added to a chorus of condemnation when he said he was "very disappointed".

The Sports minister, Richard Caborn, said: "I was appalled by the reaction of the crowd. I will be writing to the Spanish sports minister to express my outrage at their behaviour."

Spain's Minister of Education and Science, Maria Jesus San Segundo, said the chanting was "regrettable in sport or society in general" and a government spokesman said it has been "condemned categorically".

Meanwhile Fifa, football's world governing body, agreed to demands from Mr Caborn and the English FA for an investigation into one of the worst cases of its kind for decades. English witnesses said they were shocked that the culprits were not a hardcore of known troublemakers but several thousand "middle-class" fans.

The Spanish coach, Luis Aragones, whose racist comments on a training ground several weeks ago added to the tension, refused to condemn the chanting under repeated questioning after the match.

The Spanish FA faces sanctions from Fifa ranging from a match ban to a fine, which is the likely punishment. The highest such fine imposed previously is £70,000, levied against the English FA after a match against Turkey in2003.

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