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‘I stand for diversity’: Euro 2020 hothead Arnautovic denies racist goal celebration as North Macedonia urge ‘harshest punishment’

‘I stand for diversity’: Euro 2020 hothead Arnautovic denies racist goal celebration as North Macedonia urge ‘harshest punishment’
Ex-Premier League striker Marko Arnautovic has denied that a crazed goal celebration in which he appeared to be restrained by his teammates was racially motivated – but North Macedonia chiefs say it was a "nationalistic outburst".

Fiery forward Arnautovic, who was once described as having "the attitude of a child" by Jose Mourinho, reacted in explosive style after scoring his first international goal in two years with a minute remaining in Austria's first ever win at a Euro finals.

Making it 3-1 to his side in their opener against the tournament debutants, antagonistic Arnautovic wheeled towards the crowd while appearing to rant angrily and gesture as teammate and new Real Madrid signing David Alaba seemed to attempt to physically stop him from shouting.

Reports had suggested that Arnautovic, whose father is Serbian, had directed his anger at two North Macedonia players with Albanian roots, Egzon Bejtulai and Ezgjan Alioski.

The Football Federation of Macedonia (FFM) used a statement to claim that Arnautovic had been taunting Leeds wideman Alioski, but the prickly striker insisted on Instagram that he had a warm relationship with people sharing Alioski and Bejtulai's heritage.

“There were some heated words yesterday in the emotions of the game for which I would like to apologise – especially to my friends from North Macedonia and Albania,” wrote Arnautovic.

“I would like to say one thing very clearly: I am not a racist. I have friends in almost every country and I stand for diversity. Everyone who knows me is aware of that.”

UEFA had been hoping that the finals would avoid any more talk of cross-nation tensions after Ukraine unveiled a much-debated new shirt last week containing a map and slogans that caused considerable unease with some audiences.

The tournament organizers have now been urged to take action against Arnautovic by the FFM, which was unequivocal in its assessment of his celebration.

“The FFM strongly condemns the nationalistic outburst of Austrian player Marko Arnautovic," the federation said.

“At the same time, we inform you that we have submitted an official letter to UEFA demanding the harshest punishment for Arnautovic.

“We are always against nationalism, discrimination and all other forms of insults and outbursts that are not in the spirit of football and values that we all stand together.

"We will always stand up and defend the interests and dignity of Macedonian national players wherever they perform.”

There have been historic tensions between Serbia and both Albania and North Macedonia over the sovereignty of Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared its independence in 2008.

Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri – two Switzerland players of Albanian-Kosovan heritage – were fined for making gestures during their match against Serbia in the 2018 World Cup.

Arnautovic has been accused and cleared of racially abusive behavior previously. In 2009, when he played for Dutch side Twente, opponent Ibrahim Kargbo said Arnautovic had called him a "n*****", with a subsequent investigation by the Dutch Football Association finding no evidence against the towering goal threat and dismissing the case.

The 32-year-old left West Ham for current side Shanghai SIPG for around $32 million in 2019, and is widely reported to earn around $300,000 a week in China.

He will be aiming to hit the net again when Austria face the Netherlands on Thursday, finishing their group stage campaign against Ukraine four days later.

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