AC Milan star Kevin-Prince Boateng and his teammates have marched off the pitch at an exhibition match in protest after fans apparently made racist chants. Boateng picked up the ball mid-game and booted it at the fans.
AC Milan's friendly with fourth-tier team Pro Patria on Thursday was interrupted after 26 minutes of play, and it was not re-started.
Kevin-Prince Boateng was attacking the Pro Patria penalty area when he suddenly stopped, picked up the ball with his hands and smashed it towards a section of the stands behind him.
The referee and players from both sides intervened to calm Boateng down, but he later walked away, took off his shirt and left the field. His teammates then followed.
Most of the crowd were booing and jeering the small pocket of supporters apparently chanting offensively.
"Shame that these things happen," Boateng wrote on his Twitter account after the event.
He received widespread support from fellow players, including Rio Ferdinand, Vincent Kompany, Nuri Sahin and Milan captain Massimo Ambosini.
"That was intolerable, it was only a friendly. We couldn't have gone on like that, we had to give a signal," Ambrosini said.
The referee had twice stopped play to try to silence the supporters prior to Boateng taking matters into his own hands.
The club's official website was running a text commentary on the game, and its entry for the 26th minute said fans had directed racist abuse at Boateng, Mbaye Niang, Urby Emanuelson and Sulley Muntari.
"The rest of the fans in the stands disassociated themselves from such racist events," the Milan commentators said in the same entry.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri defended his players' decision to stop, saying "Italy as a country has to improve and become more civilized and intelligent."
News agency AFP cited town mayor Gigi Farioli as saying Boateng's reaction was "inappropriate" and that he should have been sent off for "kicking a ball at 200 kilometers an hour towards a fan." Boateng's kick, from comparatively close range, missed the fan block by some distance, striking the structure of the stadium below where they were stood.
Farioli is a member of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party. Berlusconi owns AC Milan football club. His daughter Barbara, who is dating star forward Alexandre Pato, stood up for the players instead. She said there should be "zero tolerance" for such fan behavior, even in competitive matches that are not as easily abandoned.
Boateng, a Ghanaian international who could have chosen to play for Germany, was once at Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. His estranged half-brother, Jerome Boateng, plays for Bayern Munich and Germany.
msh/tm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)