Euro 2012: Italy striker Antonio Cassano says sorry for homosexual comments
ITALY striker Antonio Cassano has apologised after causing controversy earlier today when he said he hoped there were no homosexuals in the national team squad at Euro 2012.
In a statement Cassano said his comments had been misinterpreted and he did not want to cause offence.
"I sincerely regret that my statements have sparked controversy and protest from gay rights groups," said the statement on the official website of the Italian Football Federation.
"Homophobia is a sentiment that is not mine. I did not want to offend anyone and I cannot question the sexual freedom of other people.
"I only said that it is a problem that does not concern me and it is not for me to pass judgment on the choices of others, who are all respected."
At a press conference yesterday, Cassano had responded to questions about reports in Italy which claimed there were two homosexual players in Cesare Prandelli's 23-man Euro 2012 group.
"The (national) coach had warned me that you would ask me this question," Cassano said.
"If I say what I think....I hope there are none.
"But if there are queers here, that's their business."
Cassano also spoke at the press conference of his surprise at even being at the European Championship after his unexpected health scare last year.
He returned to action in April for AC Milan following a six-month spell on the sidelines after undergoing minor heart surgery.
"I honestly didn't think I would play at the European Championship," Cassano said. "I was scared.
"When you arrive to a certain point where it is a case of live or die, everything else becomes secondary.
"I saw the future as grey, very grey, but fortunately I am here.
"I have been blessed, and even if I am not a believer I do feel I have been blessed."
While the player himself had doubts, Prandelli never gave up hope of getting the striker back in time for the tournament.
The 29-year-old Cassano had led the Azzurri in scoring with six goals in qualifying.
Moreover, Italy had already lost Villarreal forward Giuseppe Rossi to a serious knee injury.
"If there is one thing that saddens me about this European Championship it is that Giuseppe Rossi is not here," Cassano said. "He was very important to us."
Cassano, who started in Sunday's 1-1 draw to Spain in their Group C opener, is expected to lead Italy's attack against Croatia on Thursday.
Prandelli could opt to bench Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli in favour of Udinese's Antonio Di Natale.
Balotelli endured a frustrating afternoon against Spain before being substituted in the second half.
"It's not important who plays," Cassano said. "The only thing that matters is to beat Croatia in order to qualify for the next round.
"For us the game against Croatia is very important."
The former Roma star was not surprised by his team's solid display against Spain after the Azzurri's under-par performance in a 3-0 loss to Russia in a warm-up game earlier this month.
"Before the friendly against Russia we were considered among the favourites," Cassano said. "Then after that loss everyone criticised us.
"We played well against Spain and we want to go as far as possible in this tournament because we have the quality to do so."
Cassano praised Di Natale, who came off the bench to score against Spain.
"I am happy for Toto (Di Natale)," he said. "I am fond of him.
"He is like that, you give him half a chance and he scores."
When asked about his future at AC Milan, Cassano said: "Right now my focus is on the European Championship.
"Only after the tournament will I consider whether to stay or leave AC Milan."
The outspoken Cassano also made clear his opposition to Milan selling Thiago Silva, with the Brazilian defender looking increasingly likely to join Paris St Germain this summer.
Rossoneri vice-president Adriano Galliani was in Paris today to hold talks with PSG executives, who are prepared to offer up to 50million euros for the player, according to reports.
"To see Thiago leave is hard, very hard," Cassano said. "He is a player that you cannot substitute, regardless of the amount of money offered.
"Thiago makes up 50% of the squad.
"They (Milan executives) look at the figures but I, in my ignorance, would never let him go."