Boot out the Milk Cup brawlers - Northern Ireland boss Craigan in Mexican standoff
Northern Ireland Elite manager Stephen Craigan has called for Mexico to be barred from future Dale Farm Milk Cups.
Wednesday night's clash between Northern Ireland and Mexico at the Coleraine Showgrounds was marred by two serious brawls and four red cards.
A furious Craigan called for Mexico not to be invited to next year's tournament after two ugly incidents in as many years – Rodrigo Gonzalez was sent off in the final, also against Northern Ireland, 12 months ago.
"I have to be careful what I say, but I wouldn't like to think Mexico will be back at the Milk Cup," said Craigan.
"The Milk Cup is about young players learning their game and expressing themselves, it's not about the sort of violence we saw at the Coleraine Showgrounds.
"When the Milk Cup Committee invite teams over they trust that they will behave themselves. When something like this happened, it's not their fault, it is well beyond their control. They can't stop a player from kicking or punching.
"What they can control is the countries and the teams they bring to the Milk Cup.
"Sometimes things happen in football, but if you continually let people down and you continually act in that manner, you have to ask the question, should they be here?"
It was a dark day for the tournament as footage of Mexican player Carlos Arreola kicking Dale Gorman in the head went viral, gaining media attention all over the work.
Arreola was sent off along with Mexican goalkeeper Raul Gudino in the 61st minute, as well as Northern Ireland and Leeds United striker Robbie McDaid.
Kevin Gutierrez was sent off in the 89th minute for kicking-out and a second brawl ensued before referee Tim Marshall brought the game to an abrupt end.
The Dale Farm Milk Cup Committee condemned the disgraceful scenes and acted strongly. Arreola and Gutierrez have both been banned for four Milk Cup games while goalkeeper Gudino and Ulsterman McDaid have received two-game bans.
That means none of the four players will participate in today's Elite games, but as it's unlikely Mexico will return to the Milk Cup the additional ban is essentially meaningless.
The statement from the organisers said: "The Mexican FA and Irish Football Association will be informed of the behaviour of their under-20 teams in what turned out to be a poor advertisement for soccer.
"We would ask all teams to remember that they should be ambassadors for the game, their club and their country and appeal that they examine their behaviour and strive towards fulfiling the good intentions laid down in Fifa Fair Play."
Whether or not either the Mexican FA or the IFA impose additional bans upon their players remains to be seen. It's also up to the national FA's whether they pass the information onto Uefa or North American governing body Concacaf, as the Milk Cup Elite are not official Fifa matches.
With that in mind, it's possible that there will be no further action on Arreola, despite the clear video evidence of him kicking Dale Gorman in the head.
Craigan believes his team were only trying to defend themselves.
"To be honest, I've no idea what happened and who started it, but sometimes in football you have to protect yourself," he said.
"I think our boys had to protect themselves against blows and head-butts.
"It's not nice. We don't want to see that sort of thing. There are young kids from all over the world here and they've come to play and watch football and they don't expect to see that sort of thing.
"Yes, we were involved, but I don't think it's a problem that we have. Mexico were in last year's final and a player was sent off for punching, so they have a history of this sort of thing."
Northern Ireland will play Canada in the final Elite section fixture tonight (6pm) at the Ballymena Showgrounds. If Craigan's boys can avoid defeat they will win the prestigious youth tournament.