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Albanian soccer player apologizes for encouraging offensive fan chants

Supporters, mostly Albanian, cheer at the stand prior a Group B match between Croatia and Albania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Hamburg, Germany, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi) Supporters, mostly Albanian, cheer at the stand prior a Group B match between Croatia and Albania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Hamburg, Germany, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
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HAMBURG -

Albanian forward Mirlind Daku, who led fans in derogatory post-match chants about North Macedonia with a megaphone, apologized on Friday citing the intense emotions of playing at Euro 2024.

Daku was caught on camera whipping up fans after Albania's 2-2 draw with Croatia in Hamburg. That triggered a demand for an apology from North Macedonia's football federation plus an investigation from Europe's soccer body UEFA.

"Apologizing is manly, and I feel a moral and professional obligation to do so, for all those who have been hurt," he said in an Albanian-language statement on social media.

"Like any footballer, in those moments the emotions are on another level, which can only be understood on the field. It is difficult to describe the feeling of playing for this national team, for these wonderful fans who give us unlimited love."

Albania are at only their second major tournament and have been roared on by some of the most fanatical supporters seen so far during the month-long tournament in Germany.

"Sorry if I offended anyone after the match with Croatia, the effect of the game does its thing," the 26-year-old added in his post. "I continue to work together with the whole group for our dreams."

Kosovo controversy

Rows are proliferating at the tournament over insults relating to bitter rivalries in the Balkans region.

Serbia is demanding punishment for Croatia and Albania over hateful language, saying both sets of fans chanted "Kill, kill, kill the Serb" during their match on Wednesday. Serbia have also been admonished by UEFA for their fans' behaviour.

Most of the controversies centre on Albanian-majority Kosovo, whose independence Serbia does not accept.

Kosovo-born Daku represented his homeland before switching to Albania in 2023. Ethnic Albanians revolted in North Macedonia two decades ago.

"An investigation has been opened in relation to the alleged inappropriate behaviour of the Albanian Football Association (FSHF) player, Mr. Mirlind Daku," UEFA said in its statement.

North Macedonia's football federation said his "nationalist chants" were "scandalous."

(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne in Hamburg; Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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