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Maltese player probed after 'karate' kick at ref

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18:52 CEST+02:00
A 15-year-old football player from a Maltese team was questioned by police after kicking a referee in the chest at Storsjöcupen in Östersund on Friday.

The youth was later released after he was questioned on Friday afternoon. The tournament is Sweden's oldest youth football tournament and a major youth event, with over 345 teams from 10 countries, including Brazil and Argentina.

The team was about to lose a match against Verdal from Norway 1-0 and were very irritated at the referee and their opponents after receiving five red cards. According to witness accounts, some of the players spat and shouted abuse at the referee before a player ran up and gave the referee a karate kick in the chest.

After the incident, players, coaches and spectators charged onto the field and several people became involved in a fight that lasted for half an hour. The referee halted the match and police were called to Jämkraft Arena. Five police cars and 10 officers were called to the scene as players from around the world looked on in disbelief.

"We cannot accept this kind of incident," Sven-Bertil Bengtsson, president of Storsjöcupen, told Sveriges Radio Jämtland on Friday. "It is over for the team from Malta because the loss means that they are out of the tournament. We will send a report to the Malta Football Association."

According to Maltese media reports, the referee was apparently knocked to the ground and the fight on the pitch lasted more than half an hour. A player was taken in for questioning by police after the game while under suspicion for assault and later released. According to the player's version of events, he was pushed onto the referee during the scuffle.

The Malta Youth Football Association has condemned the incident, adding the team was not licensed by the organisation to participate in the tournament.

"In the light of the reports both in the local and international media about the deplorable incidents during a youth football match at the Storsjocupen tournament, in Östersund, Sweden, the Youth FA categorically distances itself from this team," the association said in a statement.

However, the Times of Malta reported on Sunday that Maltese delegate Michael Farrugia accused foreign media reports of blowing the incident out of proportion. Farrugia also called the referee "cheeky" and said he lost control of the game.

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