LISBON, Sep 14 (Reuters) Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari apologised for lashing out at Ivica Dragutinovic after Wednesday's Euro 2008 qualifier but said the Serbian defender had insulted his family.
''I apologise to Portugal and to the Portuguese people, because I feel at home here,'' Brazilian Scolari said in an emotional statement yesterday after the news that UEFA would investigate the incident.
''It was a situation with a lot of confusion and I was only protecting my athletes,'' said Scolari, who has become hugely popular in Portugal, adding that Sevilla player Dragutinovic had insulted his family in Spanish.
''Words in Spanish directed at my family, I understand perfectly well,'' he said.
''As such when I reacted, it was the wrong reaction but sometimes even rational and normal people err. As such, I would like to apologise to you, to the fans, the players and to the people of Portugal.'' Portugal's Soccer Federation said it would also launch an inquiry into the incident at the end of the Group A matchl, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
The melee appeared to have been started by a red card for Dragutinovic in stoppage time.
It was not clear whether Scolari actually struck Dragutinovic from pictures of the row.
'BAD EXAMPLE' Dragutinovic was quoted on his club's Web site (www.sevillafc.es) as telling Spain's Canal Sur Radio: ''He touched me a little in the face and at that moment I saw that he was going to hit me so I stepped back. It isn't good for football. It's a bad example for all sportspeople.
''I forgive him, I have nothing against him, but if you win or lose you have to have the same respect for every player because you are in the world of sport. If you don't know how to lose it is better that you leave football,'' Dragutinovic said.
''I have never before seen this type of incident in my career. I am a little surprised by his reaction. I know he's a good coach but there aren't words to describe his reaction because I never spoke to him or anything.'' Sports secretary Laurentino Dias said the scenes at the end of the match were deplorable and called on the federation to take a stand, according to news agency Lusa.
Portugal conceded the equaliser in the 88th minute, Branislav Ivanovic scrambling the ball home after a free kick by Dejan Stankovic.
Portugal players appealed for offside but German referee Markus Merk ignored the protests.
Portugal stay in third place in qualifying Group A on 17 points. They are one point in front of Serbia, two points behind Finland and four behind leaders Poland, who have both played a game more.
REUTERS BJR KP1016