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Cassano forced to apologise over gay slur controversy

ITALY striker Antonio Cassano has apologised after causing controversy by saying he hoped there were no homosexuals in the national team squad at Euro 2012.

In a statement released last night, 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.

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 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 selecting him for the tournament.

The 29-year-old starred for the Azzurri while scoring six goals in qualifying.

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 tomorrow.