ASUNCION (Reuters) - Thirty-six players, including both teams and substitutes, were sent off during a Paraguayan junior league soccer match that ended in mayhem.
In the last five minutes of the game on Sunday, referee Nestor Guillen handed out two red cards, one to a player from each team, but the pair ignored him and continued their fight on the field.
In a matter of seconds the clash spun out of control, involving players from both teams and all the replacements.
"Many of the players that were on the field and on the substitutes' bench, everyone went on to the field to try to control their team mates and even the players from the other team," said Hernan Martinez, president of the home club, Teniente Farina.
Rather than trying to end the brawl, the match officials ran off the field in fear.
For this reason, Martinez believes they had no other recourse but to dismiss all 36 players since they did not stay to identify culprits.
"The referees didn't even stay on the field. As soon as the fighting broke out they went to the dressing room," he said.
"They ran through the tunnel to their dressing room. They weren't able to see anything that happened. But, in the report, to more or less wash their hands of the responsibility, they expelled all 36 players," said Martinez.
Visiting Libertad club president Sixto Nunez said he thought the referees had shirked their duties in fleeing the scene.
"The referee needed to take better care of the boys. He should have made sure that the two dismissed players were completely off the field," Nunez said.
"Instead, the officials left the field and when the players were all leaving together that's when the fighting started again.
The players, who were all automatically suspended, await sanctions from the league's disciplinary committee.
(Writing by Cayley Taylor in Buenos Aires; editing by Rex Gowar and John Mehaffey)