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May 5, 2011

Bad losers

Real Madrid have not reacted well to their Champions League exit to Barcelona, with conspiracy theories, videos of dubious calls and disparaging tweets from the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Rory McIlroy all employed as their PR machine went into meltdown.

Here, ESPNsoccernet selects a list of some of the other teams who have jettisoned their pride in the face of defeat.

Kuwait (1982)

Kuwait, after a 1-1 draw with Czechoslovakia in their opener, saw their dreams of reaching the second round of the 1982 World Cup fade when France midfielder Alain Giresse fired the ball into the net with ten minutes to play to put France 4-1 ahead.

However, the Kuwaiti players claimed to have stopped after hearing a whistle in the crowd during the build-up and protested furiously that the goal should not be allowed. Kuwait refused to kick off again, and Russian referee Miroslav Stupar was unable to persuade them otherwise.

The match looked set to be abandoned, but Kuwaiti FA president Sheikh Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah spoke to the players and the officials and, extraordinarily, the referee reversed his original decision and gave a drop ball.

France coach Michel Hidalgo, furious at the referee's U-turn, had to be restrained by police amid ugly scenes, and his players had, for a time, looked set to refuse to play on. The game eventually resumed and France came out with a 4-1 win courtesy of an 89th-minute effort from Maxime Bossis.

Despite managing to overturn the referee's decision and still losing by three clear goals, Kuwait opted to go down the conspiracy theory route in the aftermath.

Sheikh Al-Sabah described FIFA as "worse than the mafia" and said: "Everyone knows FIFA wants certain teams to qualify for the second round. The minute they appoint USSR referee and Yugoslav linesman, we know we lose. If they would not let us beat France, they will not let us beat England."

Defender Abdullah Mayouf added: "There is no doubt in my mind that the referees in this World Cup are looking to help the top teams and are against the smaller countries like Kuwait. Every match, we have in our mind that we are playing against 12 players."

FIFA fined Kuwait and censured Sheikh Al-Sabah for unsporting behaviour, while referee Stupar was suspended after failing to keep order and allowing the protest to dictate his decision.

Chile (1989)

Leading Chile 1-0 in Rio, Brazil had been 21 minutes away from securing their place at Italia '90 when a home fan, 24-year-old Rosemary de Mello, threw a flare into the opposition penalty area. Chile goalkeeper Roberto Rojas went down holding his face as blood streamed out and was stretchered from the field.

After a 25-minute delay, Chile refused to play on. Brazilian FA vice-president Eurico Miranda said that, as Chile had effectively abandoned the game, FIFA rules stipulated that Brazil should be awarded a 2-0 win but, in the wake of a similar incident between Netherlands and Cyprus in 1987, Chilean FA president Sergio Stoppel demanded a replay in a neutral country.

A demonstration had taken place outside the Brazilian embassy in Chile in the aftermath, with 4,000 people in attendance as a Brazilian flag was burned and windows were smashed. Intriguingly, though, Brazil's team doctor had said that he was "absolutely certain" that Rojas was not hit as "the flare that fell is for signalling and not explosive".

FIFA's investigations revealed that the goalkeeper had not been hit but had, under instruction from coach Orlando Aravena, cut himself to produce blood in a bid to get the game abandoned. Chile were thrown out of the 1994 World Cup, while Rojas, Aravena, Stoppel and the team doctor were all given life bans. Vice-captain Fernando Astengo was given a five-year ban for leading the team from the field, while the team physiotherapist and kit man were both banned for a year.

Newcastle United (1990)

The play-off semi-final encounter between arch-rivals Newcastle and Sunderland had begun with an extremely bad-tempered 0-0 draw at Roker Park, but the return at St James' Park three days later was to prove worse.

Eric Gates gave Sunderland the lead 13 minutes into the second leg and, after Marco Gabbiadini settled the tie late on, the home fans invaded the pitch and delayed the game for a full 20 minutes.

"We were a little bit concerned that they would try to get it abandoned, but the referee, George Courtney, was a very experienced referee and he handled the situation immaculately," Sunderland's Gary Owers told the Sunderland Echo.

"He said not to worry because we would finish the game even if it took until 2am when everyone had gone home. When we restarted, the referee said he would play five minutes but, for everyone's safety, he would give us a signal when there was only 30 seconds to play. He was the first one off and we all raced after him trying to get to safety.

"The only disappointment was that we didn't get the chance to celebrate properly with our fans because of the invasion."

AC Milan (1991)

Having led Milan to the European Cup in 1989 and 1990, Arrigo Sacchi's final continental campaign before taking the Italy job ended in severe disappointment on what is known as the Notte di Marsiglia.

The first leg, at the San Siro, had ended in a disappointing 1-1 draw after goals from Ruud Gullit and Jean-Pierre Papin, and Chris Waddle's effort 75 minutes into the return leg at the Stade Velodrome left Milan's hopes of retaining the trophy hanging by a thread.

In the dying minutes, though, a fuse blew in the floodlights and the match was plunged into darkness. Milan sensed an opportunity to get the game replayed, even after the problem had been resolved and the referee had ordered them to play on. After five minutes of wild protests, sporting director Adriano Galliani advised the Milan players to leave the field.

UEFA took a dim view of their bid to wriggle out of defeat, announcing that Milan had forfeited the game and thereby awarding Marseille a 3-0 win. Worse, Milan were banned from Europe for a year and Galliani was told he could not work with the club again for two years.

Milan president Silvio Berlusconi said: "It's a sentence that goes beyond UEFA's rules, quite out of proportion, and it has caught us by surprise. As well as the damage in sporting terms, the ban creates an enormous damage to our image."

Esperance (2000)

The 2000 African Champions League final between Tunisia's Esperance and Ghana's Hearts of Oak produced quite incredible scenes.

Hearts had won the first leg in Tunisia 2-1, and Esperance were winning the second leg 1-0 in Ghana when the home fans began throwing things onto the field. Chaos broke out, with police firing tear gas into the stands and even the VIP box. Players lay down on the field as the tear gas filled the stadium and a number of those in the stands made their way to the running track.

With Esperance trailing on away goals, one of the away fans ran onto the pitch and handed goalkeeper Chokri El Ouaer what Reuters described as a 'sharp object'. As Simon Kuper wrote in The Guardian at the time: "In full sight of the stadium, he bravely cut himself in the face.

"Bleeding like a pig, he tottered to the halfway line, where he fell over. El Ouaer was presumably trying to get the match called off, but as had disregarded the most elementary precepts of secrecy, he simply looked silly."

There was an 18-minute delay in which El Ouaer was bizarrely substituted for an outfield player, while the Esperance players were unable to get the match abandoned even when they began fighting with policemen.

The Esperance goal-scorer, Hassen Gabsi, took El Ouaer's place in goal, and Hearts promptly scored. Esperance's Walid Azaiez was then sent off for a headbutt, but refused to leave the field and punched a policeman on his way out. Hearts scored twice more to win 3-1 and become continental champions.

Sheffield United (2002)

Sheffield United forced the abandonment of their 3-0 defeat to West Brom in a game that became known as the 'Battle of Bramall Lane'.

Blades' goalkeeper Simon Tracy was sent off after nine minutes for handling outside the area, and Scott Dobie gave the visitors the lead shortly afterwards.

The ten men were 2-0 down on 62 minutes, and down to nine men three minutes later when George Santos received a straight red for a strong tackle. Substitute Patrick Suffo went off in the scuffle that followed for a headbutt, leaving the Blades with eight men.

United captain Keith Curle then escaped a red card despite punching Derek McInnes but - after West Brom had added a third goal - Michael Brown went off injured, leaving the hosts with seven men as they had already used all three subs. Robert Ullathorne then limped off and, with only six Blades players on the field, the game was abandoned in the 83rd minute under IFAB guidelines.

Baggies boss Gary Megson said it was the most despicable match he had ever witnessed and added: "Things were going on at the side of the pitch and on it that were a total disgrace. I am not naming names but certain people were asking for their players to be sent off towards the end to get the game abandoned. There were shouts of 'Go down, come off'. Sheffield United did not cause the match to be abandoned - one person caused it."

United boss Neil Warnock responded: "I totally refute that and it is a disgrace it has been said. I was not trying to get the game called off."

Warnock was not punished as there was no evidence to support Megson's claims - particularly as Michael Brown was ruled out for the rest of the season through injury - but the Blades were fined £10,000 for their behaviour and the match went down as a 3-0 victory for West Brom.

Italy (2002)

Italy, having been on the wrong end of some highly controversial decisions, reacted incredibly badly to their 2-1 second-round defeat to co-hosts South Korea at the 2002 World Cup.

Francesco Totti, who had been shown a dubious second yellow card for diving in the penalty area, responded by smashing up the dressing room with the help of some of his team-mates, while many refused to carry out their media commitments.

Italian sticker publisher Panini then withdrew its World Cup album from the shops - "It's a sign of protest about the refereeing Italy had to put up with," commercial director Umberto Leone explained - while Perugia president Luciano Gaucci sacked Korea's match-winning forward Ahn Jung-Hwan.

Arsenal (2004)

Tensions between Manchester United and Arsenal had been running high for years, but they reached a high point on an afternoon that became known as the 'Battle of the Buffet'.

Arsenal saw their 49-game unbeaten streak come to an end with a 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford that was sparked when Sol Campbell was controversially adjudged to have brought down Wayne Rooney in the penalty area. At the final whistle, the players had an ugly confrontation in the tunnel, and a still unidentified Arsenal player threw a slice of pizza into Sir Alex Ferguson's face.

Ashley Cole, in his 2006 autobiography, wrote: "There were shouts of 'You f****** cheats' and players were running into a jostling huddle where the narrow tunnel opens into a wider mouth.

"This slice of pizza came flying over my head and hit Fergie straight in the mush. The slap echoed down the tunnel and everything stopped - the fighting, the yelling, everything. All eyes turned and all mouths gawped to see this pizza slip off that famous puce face and roll down his nice black suit.

"I thought Ferguson was going to explode but then he stormed off into the dressing room cursing and grunting, brushing the crumbs and stains off his collar. We all went back into the dressing room and fell about laughing."

Cesc Fabregas remains widely suspected of the deed.

Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, a duo who could have dominated this list twice over with their antics over the years, had also engaged in an amusing spat ahead of the pizza incident.

"In the tunnel, Wenger was criticising my players, calling them cheats, so I told him to leave them alone and behave himself," Ferguson revealed. "He ran at me with hands raised, saying, 'What do you want to do about it?'"

Chelsea (2009)

As discussed in a previous First XI, Chelsea did not react well to their Champions League elimination at the hands of Barcelona in the 2009 semi-finals.

A late goal from Andres Iniesta at Stamford Bridge saw the Blues defeated on away goals, but the story that dominated the coverage was referee Tom Henning Ovrebo's failure to award any of the home team's four penalty appeals.

Michael Ballack kicked things off with his furious pursuit of the referee after a rather dubious late appeal, while Didier Drogba told the cameras, repeatedly, that it was a "f**king disgrace", with captain John Terry saying he was "fully behind Didier" and his foul-mouthed rant. Jose Bosingwa then suggested Ovrebo was a "thief", while Guus Hiddink gave the conspiracy theories credibility.

"People are making suggestions, but it's difficult to prove things," Hiddink said. "Conspiracy is a very tough word and you have to be able to prove it, but when you analyse things closely, then I also start thinking."

Ovrebo was then reportedly smuggled out of England amid death threats.

Barcelona (2010)

After ten-man Inter eliminated Barcelona at the Camp Nou to book their place in the Champions League final, goalkeeper Victor Valdes man-handled Jose Mourinho in a bid to prevent the Portuguese celebrating in front of the travelling fans. Valdes' intervention failed, but Barca were not to be deterred, and turned on the sprinklers to, as Wesley Sneijder put it the following day, "try to screw us".

Barca director general Joan Oliver accepted that the sprinkler incident was "wrong" and added: "We have opened an investigation into the matter to find and punish the responsible parties."

Benfica (2011)

Benfica had been the kings of Portugal in 2010, but there were around 20,000 empty seats at the Estadio da Luz in April as Porto visited to claim their 25th league title the following year. The visitors' 2-1 win had not been entirely unexpected, but Benfica nonetheless reacted at the final whistle by both turning on the sprinklers and turning off the floodlights.

"That made us even happier, because it meant that they didn't want us to become champions here," Porto midfielder Fernando Belluschi said. "They did everything they could to stop us celebrating."

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