Ukrainian player had already been targeted by Spanish fans

MADRID (AP) — The Ukrainian soccer player subjected to Nazi taunts by fans during a Spanish second-division match had already been targeted by fans last season.

At the end of last season, Albacete forward Roman Zozulia received death threats from opposing fans during a match against Deportivo Lugo.

On Sunday, the game between Albacete and Rayo Vallecano was halted at halftime after opposing fans abused Zozulia in chants and in a banner. The Spanish league said both teams asked the referee to stop playing. The game was tied 0-0.

In the match at Deportivo Lugo in March, the home fans repeated chants of “Die, Zozulia.” The Spanish league denounced those chants to the Spanish soccer federation at the time.

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There had been reports of other games in which the striker was insulted by fans of Spanish clubs.

Spain’s players’ association said in a statement on Monday it hoped for a firm response to condemn the incident.

“We request that disciplinary and preventive measures be taken to keep this type of behavior from happening again,” the association said.

The Spanish federation’s anti-violence committee would likely be in charge of analyzing the case.

Zozulia made headlines in Spain early in 2017 when his loan from Real Betis to Rayo Vallecano had to be called off because of protests by Rayo fans who accused the player of having connections to radical groups in his home country. Zozulia has always strongly denied such connections.

Rayo fans began criticizing Zozulia on social media even before the loan from Betis was officially announced. A few supporters insulted the player as he arrived at the club’s training center, and a large banner was in place demanding he leave the club.

Zozulia returned to Betis but couldn’t play because the transfer to Rayo had officially gone through just before the end of the transfer deadline. He was then signed by second-division club Albacete, where he has played since.

The decision on whether Sunday’s game should be finished will be taken by the federation.

Zozulia’s teammates said the player was crying and arrived in the changing room “completely destroyed,” according to Albacete club official Víctor Varela.

Rayo president Martín Presa said the Madrid club was ashamed of the incident.

“It is a very sad night for Rayo and for all of sport,” Presa said. “We want to vehemently condemn the insults by a part of our fans.”

Rayo’s players and coaches released a statement on Monday lamenting the incident and making a call to “abolish any type of violence, racism and xenophobia from our football stadiums.”

Before the match, Albacete midfielder Néstor Susaeta said the squad would fully support Zozulia, even if he decided not to play in the match in Vallecas.

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