Sweden team hits back at racism toward player who gave away free kick to Germany

Sweden’s players and coaching staff have hit back after midfielder Jimmy Durmaz was singled out for racist attacks following Saturday’s World Cup loss to Germany. Durmaz, who is a Swedish national of Assyrian-Turkish descent, made the foul on Germany striker Timo Werner that led to Toni Kroos’ game-winning free kick.

The Swedes had led for over a third of the match and had been denied what looked like a clear penalty even before Ola Toivonen netted Sweden’s opening goal. Marco Reus equalized for Germany and the match appeared to be headed for a draw until Durmaz, who’d come on as a sub in the 75th minute, brought down Werner on the edge of the box, gifting Germany the opportunity that led to Kroos’ dramatic stoppage-time winner.

Following the defeat, Durmaz’s social media accounts were flooded with racist, hate-filled comments, and even death threats aimed at the player and his family.

Despite standing on the brink of possible World Cup elimination, the rest of Sweden’s players and coaching staff have responded to the heinous vitriol aimed at Durmaz with a show of unity.

“We choose to start today’s training in a different way than usual,” said Sweden coach Jannes Andersson speaking to Swedish outlet Sportbladet ahead of training on Sunday. “This due to some completely unacceptable events during yesterday’s match. Jimmy will make a statement and all players and coaches stand behind it 100 percent.”

Andersson, who was embroiled in a touchline fracas with members of Germany’s coaching staff at the final whistle on Saturday, then stepped aside for Durmaz.

“I am a football player of the highest level,” Durmaz said. “Being criticized is something we live with but being called suicide bomber and getting murder threats to me and my children is totally unacceptable.

“I’m Swedish and proudly, I wear our shirt and our flag. At the same time, I would like to thank all the wonderful, wonderful people out there that spread joy. It’s warming in all of us. We stand united, we are Sweden.”

The player then turned to the rest of the team standing behind him and said, “[Expletive] racism.”

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SOCHI, RUSSIA - JUNE 23: Jimmy Durmaz of Sweden looks on during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Sweden at Fisht Stadium on June 23, 2018 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Simon Hofmann - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Germany's forward Julian Brandt (L) vies for the ball with Sweden's midfielder Jimmy Durmaz during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group F football match between Germany and Sweden at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on June 23, 2018. (Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Sweden's midfielder Jimmy Durmaz (L) and Sweden's midfielder Sebastian Larsson (R) react at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group F football match between Germany and Sweden at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on June 23, 2018. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS (Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)
GELENDZHIK, RUSSIA - JUNE 13: Jimmy Durmaz of Sweden poses during the official FIFA World Cup 2018 portrait session on June 13, 2018 in Gelendzhik, Russia. (Photo by Simon Hofmann - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
Uefa - World Cup Fifa Russia 2018 Qualifier / 'nSweden National Team - Preview Set - 'nJimmy Durmaz
Sweden's midfielder Jimmy Durmaz controls the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualification football match between Sweden and France in Solna on June 9, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jonathan NACKSTRAND (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)
SOLNA, SWEDEN - JUNE 09: Jimmy Durmaz of Sweden celebrates after scoring to 1-1 during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between Sweden and France at Friends Arena on June 9, 2017 in Solna, Sweden. (Photo by Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images)
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Teammates rally around Durmaz

In the wake of the incident, Durmaz’s Sweden teammates have rallied around the player.

“No shadow falls over Jimmy, there is nothing bad to say about him. People can’t blame one person. You win as a team and you lose as a team,” said midfielder Albin Ekdal.

“He ran and fought the entire time. It’s bad luck. It’s completely idiotic to give him hatred because of it,” said striker John Guidetti.

“Crazy people openly raging with racism against Jimmy Durmaz after a football match, unfortunately, says too much about the world we live in,” tweeted Swedish sports journalist Patrick Ekwall.

Not an isolated incident

Even at the highest levels of international soccer, racism remains a rampant problem. Players like Durmaz, who hail from a different ethnic or international background from the countries they represent, are frequently targeted.

Following Germany’s tournament-opening loss to Mexico, midfielder Mesut Ozil, a German of Turkish descent, was particularly singled out for harsh criticism. Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka, two Swiss players with Albanian-Kosovan heritage may face disciplinary proceedings for making a controversial, ethnically divisive gesture aimed at Serbian players following Switzerland’s 2-1 win over the Serbs last week.

Sweden faces a tough task to try and keep its World Cup hopes alive when it faces Mexico in its final Group Stage match this Wednesday.

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