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Outrage as fan punches player in Russian football unrest (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Outrage as fan punches player in Russian football unrest (PHOTOS, VIDEO)
St. Petersburg police have opened a criminal case against a local football fan, who punched a player of a winning Moscow team. A crowd of football ultras violently disrupted the game, prompting calls to “reconsider” the club’s relations with fans.

The so-called ultras, the most radical football fans, have long been associated with violent clashes in Europe and South America. Ukrainian football ultras were instrumental in the recent tragic events in Odessa that resulted in 48 deaths as of Sunday.

While clashes between rival teams’ supporters are not uncommon, attacking the actual players of football clubs could be considered extreme even by ultras, as such actions would inevitably carry grave consequences for the club the offenders support.

St. Petersburg’s Zenit football club could now be sanctioned and its home stadium disqualified from the national league after a large crowd of the club’s fans broke onto the field and attempted to attack the Dynamo Moscow players, with at least one player suffering injuries.

The massive unrest started at the very end of Sunday’s game, as Zenit was losing 2:4 to Dynamo. Hundreds of frustrated Zenit ultras gathered right behind the goalposts, roaring chants and songs and effectively halting the game. As the situation prompted a heated argument between the players in the center of the field, part of the crowd decided it was time to intervene and rushed to the players.

Referees and security ordered the players to be evacuated, however, there was apparently not enough police to hold off the raging mob. One bare-chested man in black cap and gloves broke through to Dynamo’s defender Vladimir Granat and punched him in the face.

While footage of the incident showed Granat attempting to dodge the blow, Russian sports media reports suggested he still received injuries including a concussion and even a possible fracture of a jaw. The football player filed a report with the police, local media said.

St. Petersburg police opened a criminal case on charges of battery driven by motives of hooliganism, Itar-Tass reported, with the perpetrator facing up to 5 years in jail. They also promised to detain all the fans involved in the incident with the help of CCTV footage. Those only face a 15-day administrative arrest, according to the Russian law, but the country’s football federation could also ban the aggressive fans from attending games.

Conflicting reports emerged on whether Granat’s attacker has been detained. So far, Russian football premier-league president, Sergey Pryadkin, has confirmed to Itar-Tass that the man has been identified.

“The identity of the perpetrator has been identified. In light of the Russian government’s decisions on the stadiums security, there could be a precedent of applying the strictest sanctions,” Pryadkin said.

Zenit St. Petersburg fans on the football field during the Russian Football Premier League's Round 29 match between Zenit St. Petersburg and Dynamo Moscow (RIA Novosti / Igor Russak)

FC Zenit has apologized for the incident, saying it deeply regrets the behavior of its fans, while understanding their disappointment. Sunday’s defeat shifted the club to second place from the top of the national league.

Echoing the calls of officials and experts cited by Russian media, a spokesman of Zenit said in a statement the club “will reconsider relations with fans.” Meanwhile, the incident sparked outrage in Russian social networks.

This is not the first time the notorious ultras supporting the St. Petersburg club have caused violence and injuries during a game. In 2012, a Dynamo Moscow goalkeeper sustained eye injuries after a Zenit fan threw a cracker right next to his goalpost. Ironically, the only goal in that game had been scored by Sunday’s victim of the ultras, Granat. Back then, the Russian Football Union ruled a technical forfeit of Zenit, charged the club a fine and banned its fans from attending two games in a row.

Dynamo Moscow's Vladimir Granat and Zenit St. Petersburg's goalkeeper Yury Lodygin during the disturbances at the Petrovsky stadium during the Russian Football Premier League's Round 29 match between Zenit St. Petersburg and Dynamo Moscow (Reuters / Igor Russak)