An Italian striker has apologised after telling a press conference he hoped there were no gay men in his team at the Euro 2012 football championships.

Antonio Cassano, 29, usually plays with AC Milan and had been answering a question about rumours of two gay players in the Italy squad when they play the championships in Poland and Ukraine.

He responded: “The coach warned me that you would ask me this question. If I say what I think… I hope there are none. But if there are queers here, that’s their business.”

Cassano subsequently issued a statement saying he did not pass judgement on others.

He said: “I sincerely regret that my statements have sparked controversy and protest from gay rights groups.

“Homophobia is a sentiment that is not mine. I did not want to offend anyone and I can not 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.”

Cassano had only returned to football in April after having heart surgery and said he was surprised he made the national team.

Aside from the comment about gay footballers, he told the original press conference: “I honestly didn’t think I would play at the European Championship. 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.”