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THE FINISH LINE

Welcome to the madhouse

Bosnian footballer Edin Dzeko is the latest, but certainly not the last, to lose his head
Saturday, November 19, 2016 - 05:50

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Manchester United's Eric Cantona aiming a flying kick at Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons after being sent off back in 1993.

THE late English footballer Brian Clough once said: "Footballers are stupid. Give them a bit of responsibility and watch them mess up." If there was one trait that ran in his blood, it would be discipline. A prolific goalscorer and manager, he made sure his players avoided getting into trouble with the referees. Anyone who crossed the line would later incur his wrath.

If Clough were alive today, one wonders what he would have thought last Sunday, had he witnessed what was arguably one of the craziest red-card offences in the history of the sport.

The venue was a stadium in the Greek port city of Piraeus, and Greece was trailing Bosnia-Herzegovina in their World Cup 2018 qualifying match. With just 10 minutes left on the clock, Bosnian captain Edin Dzeko was sent off for pulling down Sokratis Papastathopoulos' shorts after a tussle for the ball, exposing the bemused player's white underwear for the world to see. The referee, none too impressed by Dzeko's move, promptly gave the striker a second yellow card and ejected him from the pitch.

The Greek players were still angry, and Kyriakos Papadopoulos received a straight red card for shoving during the skirmishes later. With both teams down to 10 men, Greece was to have the final word as they equalised, deep into injury time to escape with a draw.

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Dzeko wasn't the first footballer to be sent off in controversial circumstances, and neither will he be the last; many others have written themselves into the history books for their antics on the field that earned them the dreaded red card.

Who could ever forget the chain of events that led to Eric Cantona's famous - or some say infamous - kung fu kick on a Crystal Palace supporter back in 1995? It was a shocking moment that made headlines all around the world, and still stands as one of sport's most extraordinary events. Cantona, the Frenchman who was already a fan favourite at Manchester United for having led the Red Devils to two league championships, was dismissed from the match in London early in the second half. His faux pas, kicking Palace defender Richard Shaw, ended his evening on the pitch - but the drama was just about to start.

As he made his way to the tunnel, he was taunted by Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons; the striker inexplicably launched a two-footed kick at Mr Simmons and then traded punches with him. Cantona was banned for the remaining four months of the 1994/95 season; the Football Association of England extended the suspension to eight months.

As far as dumb incidents in this sport are concerned, no list would be complete without including the name of one of the sport's all-time "bad boys", Joey Barton. Turn the clock back to February 2004. The 21-year-old Barton was on the Manchester City team facing Tottenham Hotspur in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

His youth should not have been any excuse for his childish actions that afternoon. Already on a yellow card with his team down 0-3, he continued to berate the referee as the teams left the field at half-time - not the wisest of decisions. The referee, Rob Styles, had little option but to brandish a second yellow. However, the 10-man Manchester City somehow produced a stirring comeback in the second period to eventually beat the Spurs 4-3.

Talk about hot-headed footballers and inevitably the conversation will switch to Zinedine Zidane. The now-retired French midfielder is arguably one of the greatest players in the sport's modern era, but his reputation was severely tarnished in his final match on the grandest stage of them all.

It was the World Cup 2006 final in Berlin, and France had defied all odds to oust Brazil and Portugal and now faced Italy in the championship match. As the game inched towards half-time, Zidane reacted to provocation from defender Marco Materazzi with a WWE-style headbutt to the Italian's chest. What a way to end one's football career. France never recovered from Zidane's moment of madness. They lost after a nail-biting penalty shootout.

Steven Gerrard also makes this list, and with good reason. It was March 2015 and the Englishman was playing what was to be his final match against Manchester United at Old Trafford before leaving Liverpool that summer. Left out of the starting line-up for this match, Gerrard started the second half with great enthusiasm. He immediately went into a full-blooded tackle on Juan Mata, and seconds later, stamped on Ander Herrera's right leg.

Referee Martin Atkinson didn't even bat an eyelid. He whipped out the red card from his shirt pocket. Gerrard's cameo appearance had lasted all of 38 seconds. The Manchester United fans didn't squander their opportunity to bid the beleaguered Liverpool captain farewell.

David Beckham may be a football idol but he was not a saint all the time. His most famous red card was, of course, for England at the 1998 World Cup in France, when he let fly a petulant flick of his right leg to trip Argentina's Diego Simeone.

But in terms of stupidity, a match in October 2005 easily topped that. Beckham, then playing for Real Madrid against Valencia, was given a caution for dissent aimed at the referee. Instead of backing off and biting his tongue, Beckham sarcastically applauded the decision, which earned him an immediate second yellow. The Madrid crowd were furious, and the team went on to lose the match.

There are countless other incidents to speak of, and listing them all would easily take up another column or two.

One thing you can count on: The next silly red card is probably just around the corner.

 

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