Mumbai: Lambasting rowdy elements among his country's fans who have converged on France to support their national team's campaign in the ongoing Euro 2016, former Liverpool and England football star Robbie Fowler on Friday claimed that they were only handful of people.
"Obviously there will be a minority of idiots. Yes, there cannot be a smoke without some fire, but the Russians were also involved and to label only the England fans as hooligans is wrong," Fowler, who is on the expert panel of Sony Pictures Networks, which is broadcasting the tournament on its sports channels, told reporters in Mumbai.
England and Russian fans had clashed last week at Marseille and violence featuring unruly fans from these two countries has continued to mar the biggest football event after the FIFA World Cup.
Fowler, who is analysing the matches on Sony Six and Sony ESPN channels along with ex-Portugal international Deco and India's current captain Sunil Chhetri, has backed Italy to claim the top honours.
"I was impressed with Northern Ireland's last night (when they won 2-0 against Ukraine). Spain is a quality side and (Andres) Iniesta has been very impressive, though they lack a good goal scorer.
"Although I am impressed with a number of teams, I am tipping Italy to win (the title), for certain. In defence they have been superb. They will not score many goals but they will also concede less (goals)," said the ex-Liverpool stalwart.
According to 41-year-old Fowler, the lesser number of goals witnessed in the league phase so far was because the coaches of various teams are "tactically very good."
The Englishman, however, was not in favour of increased usage of technology in football than what is in vogue.
"Football is a sport of momentum and not fits and starts. I can understand goal-line technology, but I am not in favour of taking referees out of the game," he said responding to a query about the controversial goal awarded to Peru, even though the ball appeared to have gone in off an attacker's hand, that knocked five-time World Champions Brazil out of Copa America, which is in progress in the US.
Deco, who is to feature in the Premier Futsal tournament, which is to be held in India next month, conceded that Brazil — his country of birth — was currently struggling to come up with a winning combination.
"Older teams from Brazil had very good players. The current formation is not working very well. We have the talent but our players have to work harder," said Deco, who had won the UEFA Champions League in 2004 with FC Porto and 2006 with Barcelona and represented his adopted country, Portugal, in two Euros and as many World Cups.
Chhetri said he was initially backing Spain but there could eventually be a surprise winner, like Portugal. Speaking on the proposed merger between the Indian Super League and I-League, Chhetri said he was surprised to read the details in the media after the one meeting convened by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
"I was told not to speak about it after the first meeting where a preliminary draft was submitted but was surprised to read details of the meeting the next day. But it's not fair on my part to talk about it now before all stake holders come together," said Chhetri, who has won two I-League crowns with Bengaluru FC and represented Mumbai City FC in last season's ISL.
"I have been playing football over the last 13 years and it has witnessed massive growth, not only in the numbers playing but also in those following. The Under-17 World Cup (to be hosted by India next year and whose broadcast rights have been bought by the Sony Network) is going to be a massive step. But whatever we do is not enough from where we are (in world ranking)," he said.
SPN's CEO, NP Singh, promised a good build-up for the first-ever FIFA event to be hosted by the country but said it was for the AIFF to provide the details.
"A whole lot of events have been planned from now up to the Under-17 World Cup. It's going to be an intensive calendar but it's the prerogative of AIFF to announce it," he said.
SPN's Executive VP and head of its sports cluster, Prasana Krishnan, dispelled doubts about next month's Premier Futsal multinational league saying "it is on track", although it has come under opposition from the AIFF.