Italy striker Antonio Cassano has apologized for comments he made during a Euro 2012 press conference which outraged gay rights groups.

The 29-year-old Cassano reportedly was asked about an Italian TV personality's claim that two footballers in the Italy squad are gay.

“If they're queer, that's their problem. I hope there aren't any queers in the national team,” he answered.

The outspoken player issued an apology on Tuesday.

“I'm sincerely sorry that what I said has sparked controversy and protests from gay associations,” he said in a statement. “Homophobia is not a sentiment I feel. I didn't want to offend anyone and I certainly didn't want to call into question anyone's freedom of sexuality.”

“I only said it wasn't a problem and I wouldn't allow myself to judge others. Everyone deserves respect.”

Gay rights group Gay Centre in Italy had criticized Cassano's remarks: “Cassano says 'cassanate' (stupid things) about gays, showing his arrogance and irresponsibility.”

“Unifying sport and homophobia gives a dangerous message, especially to the young,” spokesman Fabrizio Marrazzo said.