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UK government urges UEFA to sanction Serbia over racism

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Serbian players, in red and green, clash with England players after their 2013 European Under-21 Championship play-off, second leg match, between Serbia and England, in Krusevac, Serbia. (AP)

The British government wrote to UEFA President Michel Platini on Wednesday demanding "tough sanctions" against Serbia following the racial abuse of England players by fans during an ill-tempered under-21 match.

England players were targeted with racial abuse throughout Tuesday's game in the Serbian city of Krusevac, with monkey chants heard in the stadium.

After England's 1-0 victory, which secured qualification for the 2013 European Under-21 Championship, scuffles broke out between fans, players and coaching staff.

The bitterness between the two nations was emphasized by their respective statements Wednesday, with the English Football Association suggesting it might decline to send teams to the Balkan nation in future and the Serbians emphatically denying racism and denouncing the visiting players.

Serbian football fans have caused trouble at home and abroad in the past, and the country was warned by Platini last year that ongoing crowd trouble at matches is risking its teams being banned from European competitions.

The English FA, which took extra security to Serbia, initially reported the racist abuse to UEFA during the match and was submitting its formal complaint on Wednesday. Sports minister Hugh Robertson has already written to Platini decrying the "extreme provocation and racism" players faced and demanding an investigation.

Downing Street said that British Prime Minister David Cameron was "appalled by the scenes" and wants UEFA to impose "tough sanctions" against Serbia's football body.

"We are determined to stamp out racism overseas and at home and we are giving full backing to the FA's complaint," said Cameron's spokesman, Steve Field. "If we are going to stamp out racism from football then it is no good handing out derisory fines as has happened in the past."

In a reference to a much-criticized suggestion by FIFA President Sepp Blatter last year, Field said: "It is no good telling players to shake hands and forget about it."

Blatter said later on Twitter that he is "saddened every time I hear about racist incidents in football."

But the Serbian FA denied in a statement that "before or during the match" there were any racial abuses targeting England players.

It laid the blame for the incidents after the final whistle squarely on England defender Danny Rose, claiming he "who behaved in inappropriate, unsportsmanlike and vulgar manner towards the supporters for which he was shown a red card."

"Unfortunately, that led to the incident that followed," the Serbian FA statement said.

 But Serbia did promise to punish the culprits and apologized "to our English guests and the entire football public over the unsporting behavior of a part of our staff and players."

The English FA responded with a statement insisting its players and staff "were subjected to racial abuse, violence as well as missiles" throughout the match.

 "FA officials made UEFA officials aware of racist abuse from sections of the crowd aimed at a number of England's black players at halftime on Tuesday evening," FA General Secretary Alex Horne said. "This matter was discussed again during a meeting with UEFA after those disgraceful scenes which followed the final whistle.

 "No football team should be asked to play in any environment where racial abuse, violence and threatening behavior are prevalent. We must question the validity of sending a team to Serbia in the future."

 Horne also stressed that "we must defend Danny Rose, who was sent off due to the frustration of being a target of racial abuse."

Rose complained that trouble had been brewing throughout the evening.

 He was sent off after the final whistle following apparent provocation, gesturing to the crowd that he was racially abused.

"The monkey chanting started long before I got sent off," Rose told British broadcaster Sky Sports. "After 60 minutes my head wasn't really on the game. They have to be banned. I don't understand how else they can learn from it. They have to be banned."

Rose said he complained to assistant coach Steve Wigley about problems when the team went out to warm-up before the game.

 "They started the monkey chanting straight away. I asked the lads if they could hear it and they said they could hear it," Rose said. "Halfway through the warm-up I went to `Wigs,' the assistant manager, and told him what was happening. He said I had to try my best to get through it and they would deal with it straight away after the game.

"In the first half I went down to get the ball for a throw-in and the fans started again with the monkey chants, but the first half was nowhere near as bad as the second half. In the second half I had two stones hit me on the head when I went to get the ball for a throw-in. Every time I touched the ball there was monkey chanting again."

But Serbia captain Slobodan Medojevic accused the English players of triggering the incident at the end of the game.

"My teammates told me they were provoked by the gestures of the English players toward our fans at the stadium," he said. "I don't think it's only our fault for the incidents, but also of the English players ... even if there were such chants, they could have been made by maximum five or six people."

In 2007, UEFA fined Serbia euro24,000 (then $32,600) after its players and fans hurled racist abuse during another under-21 game against England.