Football: Serbian players fall foul of Uefa

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The Independent Online

SASA CURCIC, Crystal Palace's Serbian midfielder, has fallen foul of European football's ruling body after protesting at the weekend against Nato's bombing campaign in .

Curcic walked on to the Selhurst Park pitch before Sunday's Nationwide League First Division game against Bradford City waving a placard which read: "Stop Nato bombing." Yesterday, in response to protests by Curcic and other Yugoslav players elsewhere in Europe, a Uefa spokesman said: "Although recognising the gravity of the situation, our official stance is quite clear: politics should not be mixed with football.

"While sympathising with the players' anxiety and desire to do something, Uefa feels that the players have certain obligations to their clubs and to the game of football. This is the clear standpoint which will be conveyed to players, clubs and to the Yugoslav national association itself." The Yugoslav FA had urged Serb expatriates not to play for clubs based in Nato member countries.

The former Aston Villa striker Savo Milosevic, now with Real Zaragoza, was part of a demonstration by Yugoslav players based in Spain outside the American embassy in Madrid. Real Madrid's Predrag Mijatovic and the Celta Vigo defender Goran Djorovic were also part of the same protest.

Mijatovic has apparently appointed himself spokesman for the Yugoslav players in Spain. The international striker said: "Footballers are not going to play while our families cannot come out of their cellars."

While Spain's First Division footballers had the weekend off, there was a full Second Division programme. Fifteen Yugoslav players were faced with making the choice of whether to play or not. Four chose to withdraw their labour, four were either dropped or made substitute while the other seven men played - although some wore black armbands.

The former Kilmarnock goalkeeper Dragoje Lekovic refused to play for his Spanish club, Malaga, but his compatriot Dejan Markovic turned out for Osasuna. "I wanted to play to show that the Yugoslavs are not assassins," he said. "I'm not in agreement with those that aren't playing. That way, we're not proving anything."

In France, the Metz striker Vladan Lukic is heading for home. "What they're doing to my country is a scandal. So I'm off," he said. "It's my duty to leave because my country is under attack. I don't know how I'll get there but I'll manage."

The Juventus defender Zoran Mirkovic returned to Italy from Belgrade on Saturday after the postponement of 's Euro 2000 qualifier against Croatia and said: "I saw my town burning last night. It is shameful for the whole of Europe. They are killing people in front of everyone's eyes."

Despite the disruption the conflict is causing to the European Championship fixture schedule, Uefa has no plans to exclude .

"We are not thinking of playing without any of the [Balkan] countries," Guido Tognoni, a Uefa spokesman, said yesterday. "But we all agree that, for the moment, football has to step back."

South Korea

BRAZIL'S NATIONAL squad arrived in Japan yesterday still stunned by Sunday's shock 1-0 defeat to South Korea.

Brazil's coach, Wanderley Luxemburgo, who included six newcomers for the trip to Asia in his build-up to the Copa America in June and next year's Sydney Olympics, said: "They're still not used to each other so they didn't play as a unit. South Korea kept coming at us for the full 90 minutes - I'll have to sit down and analyse what went wrong."

Kim Do-hoon's last-minute goal for South Korea condemned Brazil to their first defeat under Luxemburgo, whose team take on Japan tomorrow in Tokyo.