BITTER enemies disgraced the beautiful game when they had a team-on-team brawl in the middle of a friendly.
Players rained down blows on each other, kicking and punching rivals as anger boiled over after a red card tackle.
The ref halted the match between Argentine sides Estudiantes and Gimnasia after police were called onto the pitch to restore order.
Several players are expected to be hit with lengthy bans following the orgy of violence in front of 25,000 fans in La Plata near Buenos Aires.
Estudiantes manager Nelson Vivas described the incident as “woeful” and admitted: “The referee may have made some mistakes but the ones who gaffed were the two teams.”
The fighting occurred near the end of the game when Estudiantes were winning 1-0 despite having two players sent off against 10-man Gimnasia.
An ambulance had already been driven onto the pitch to attend to a groggy Gimnasia player booted in the face by an Estudiantes defender who resorted to a karate kick to try to clear the ball.
Estudiantes youngster Santiago Escacibar brought the tension to boiling point with a violent tackle from behind on a rival.
The pushing and shoving as the two teams confronted each other turned into a lamentable kickboxing spectacle.
Estudiantes goalie Mariano Andújar turned into Mike Tyson and punched several rival players before being felled by a side-on right hook and kicked around the head and body as he lay on the ground.
He admitted after a cool-down in the dressing room: “It’s shameful for us, for the people who came to the stadium and for those watching on the TV.
“We can’t finish like this. I don’t know what happened but this doesn’t do anyone any good.”
The pre-season friendly yesterday/on Sunday took place just a week before the start of Argentina’s Clausura, the second of the country’s two single-round tournaments which begins after the Christmas break.
A week earlier five players were sent off during a friendly between the country’s biggest two teams River and Boca.