Battles take shine off the beautiful game

Football may be the beautiful game but the dark side of the sport has reared its head all too often at the World Cup.

Four years ago in South Africa, Spain earned legions of admirers as their attractive passing style helped them to a maiden World Cup triumph.

But the Spanish victory was so nearly derailed by a bitterly contested final which saw the Netherlands try to disrupt their opponents with an overtly physical approach.

Nigel De Jong was lucky to stay on the pitch after planting his studs in Xabi Alonso`s chest with a wild tackle, while Johnny Heitinga joined the elite band of players to have been sent off in a World Cup final for two yellow cards.

In all, the final produced some 47 fouls and 14 yellow cards, more than any other game in the 2010 tournament.

Yet in many ways, the 2010 final was tame compared to some of the more notorious episodes in the World Cup`s wilder early history.

Since Placido Galindo was sent off for Peru at the 1930 World Cup -- the first player in tournament history to be dismissed -- a total of 159 players have been given their marching orders.

It was not until 1938 however that a World Cup match earned the dubious distinction of being branded a "battle", when Brazil and Czechoslovakia collided in a stormy quarter-final in Bordeaux.

A bruising encounter ended with three players sent off, while Czechoslovakia`s forward Oldrich Nejedly suffered a broken leg and goalkeeper Frantisek Planicka was left with a broken arm.

Brazil were at the center of another notorious brawl in Switzerland in 1954, when their quarter-final against Hungary became immortalized as the "Battle of Berne."

The result, a 4-2 victory for Hungary, has become a footnote of a match which is a strong contender for the dirtiest game in World Cup history.

The match was marred by three sendings off and several mass brawls, and was interrupted by several invasions from Brazilian officials and media.

"This was a battle; a brutal, savage match," recalled Hungary`s coach Gustav Sebes, who himself ended up with four stitches in a facial wound after being struck by a broken bottle in a post-match brawl.

The violence was taken to a new level at the Battle of Santiago eight years later in Chile, when Italy and the host nation met in a foul-tempered group match.

The first foul occurred within 12 seconds, and Italy`s Giorgio Ferrini was dismissed after only 12 minutes, needing to be dragged from the field by police after protesting vainly to English referee Ken Aston.

Another Italian, Mario David, was sent off for kicking Chile`s Leonel Sanchez in the head. Sanchez was lucky to escape censure after breaking Humberto Maschio`s nose with a punch. Police intervened repeatedly as the two teams continuously clashed.

While isolated incidents of violence have pepppered World Cups since -- most notably German goalkeeper Toni Schumacher`s flying challenge on France`s Patrick Battiston in 1982, and Zinedine Zidane`s headbutt on Marco Materazzi in 2006 -- there have been few games to rival the wildness of the matches in Berne and Santiago.

One exception is 2006`s "Battle of Nuremberg" between Portugal and the Netherlands. Russian referee Valentine Ivanov issued four red cards and 16 yellows, a World Cup record, and Portugal were fortunate not to lose captain Luis Figo too.

Figo should have been sent off for a retaliatory headbutt after being elbowed by Khalid Boulahrouz.

"Jesus Christ may be able to turn the other cheek but Luis Figo isn`t Jesus Christ," Portugal`s then coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said.

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