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‘They had it in for us’: Spartak official says fan clashes at Bilbao match were ‘self-defense’

Spartak Moscow’s VP has accused Athletic Bilbao supporters of staging “provocations” ahead of last Thursday’s match in Spain, in which a policeman separating fans suffered a heart attack and later died in hospital.

“We knew from the start that they had it in for us in Bilbao,” Nail Izmailov told RT, in an emailed statement. “At first there were scare stories in the press about Spartak fans, then marches by local ultras, amid demonstratively tightened security measures on the streets. It was obvious that there would be provocations, and indeed this is what happened.”

51-year-old Basque riot police officer Inocencio Arias Garcia died in hospital following a fatal heart attack on Thursday night, before the Europa League match kick-off between the sides.

“Garcia had collapsed during the intervention that took place when police confronted fans of both teams in the esplanade of the San Mames Stadium, and moments later, there was a flare thrown by a Russian fan close to him,” RFEF, the Spanish football federation, said on Friday.

Nine people, including four Russian fans, will stand in front of a judge in connection with the incident. Izmailov insists the detained Spartak fans did not initiate the scuffles.

“When you get attacked, you must defend yourself,” Izmailov stated. “We must get to the bottom of this [incident]. But compare this to how the Champions League and the Europa League matches are organized in Moscow. They proceed in an atmosphere of hospitality, safety and comfort for the fans.”

The Spanish media said that Spartak fans set off the street confrontations, while the Russians accused locals of inciting the unrest. The mayor of Bilbao has asked UEFA to investigate the incident and take punitive measures, after the union “strongly condemned” the violence. On the pitch that day Spartak beat Athletic 2-1, but lost the two-leg tie on aggregate.

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