GDANSK, Poland (Reuters) - Players, officials and fans took a breather on the first blank day of the European soccer Championship on Wednesday but the rumblings of discontent surrounding co-hosts Ukraine continued.
They joined fellow hosts Poland on the tournament’s scrap-heap after losing 1-0 to England the previous night when the major talking point was Marco Devic’s ‘goal’ which was ruled not to have crossed the line.
The sense of injustice in Ukraine would have hardly been diluted by Pierluigi Collina, head of referees at European soccer governing body UEFA, admitting that the goal should have been allowed.
Ukraine is also still dealing with continued protests about the jailing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko with the British government saying it would boycott England’s quarter-final with Italy in Kiev on Sunday by not sending any ministers.
When asked if any United Kingdom politicians would be present, a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said: “No. They’re not. It reflects ministers’ busy schedules ahead of the Olympics and widespread concerns about selective justice and the rule of law in Ukraine.”
German chancellor Angela Merkel, an avid supporter of the national team, stayed away from all of Germany’s three group matches in Ukraine but will attend their quarter-final against Greece in Poland’s Gdansk on Friday.
Players and coaches from Germany and Greece have sought to play down the importance of a game which has turned minds at the tournament to the economic crisis affecting many of the nations involved.
Greek media though are relishing the chance of sending a fancied German team home in front of their leader, who is unpopular in Greece for the tough austerity she has imposed on the euro zone country in exchange for its international bailout.
Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai and his goal line assistant are certainly unpopular with Ukraine fans after not awarding the Devic goal, which in itself would not have put the co-hosts into the quarter-finals but would have made life difficult for England.
“(At Euro 2012) we had three goal line situations. Two of them were absolutely correct, the third was unfortunately wrong,” the bald-headed Collina told reporters in Warsaw.
“Being wrong is one thing, saying that the ball was half a metre over is another and you know it. The ball was centimetres (over),” he added, defending the use of officials stationed behind the goals to make close calls on goal line decisions.
Kassai will take no further part in the tournament but Collina said the officials should not be blamed.
“This was a human mistake made by a human being,” he said, aware that world governing body FIFA is trialing goal line technology.
With the tournament now trimmed to eight teams and the trophy suddenly in sight after a fascinating group phase, action starts again on Thursday when the quarter-finals begin in Warsaw with the Czech Republic facing Portugal.
Czech captain Tomas Rosicky hopes to be fit for the match after his Achilles tendon injury improved.
Germany face Greece in Gdansk on Friday, with holders Spain battling France in Donetsk on Saturday and England taking on Italy in the final last-eight tie on Sunday in Kiev.
Croatia faced a second racism charge on Wednesday over crowd banners displayed in the 1-0 defeat by Spain on Monday which knocked them out of the tournament.
They were also charged over the flares let off by fans and UEFA said the disciplinary case also involved the “improper conduct” of the six players who were booked.
Croatia had already been fined 80,000 euros (64,500 pounds) after fans directed racist abuse at Italy striker Mario Balotelli and set off fireworks in Croatia’s second group game in Poznan.
They were also fined 25,000 euros for “spectator incidents” in their opening match.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Mark Meadows