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Sunday, 25 June, 2000, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
Hagi protests his innocence
Gheorghe Hagi
Hagi walks disconsolately away after being sent off
Romanian midfielder Gheorghe Hagi claims he was cheated in his side's quarter-final defeat at the hands of Italy.

The 35-year-old star saw the last game of his 17-year international career soured by a second-half red card after he picked up a second booking for diving.

Hagi collapsed in a heap under an innocuous challenge from Italian defender Gianluca Zambrotta having been booked for a foul on Antonio Conte just five minutes earlier.

But he insisted: "Zambrotta brought me down. It was a clear penalty!

"Instead of showing me the red card, the referee should have awarded us a penalty and sent off Zambrotta."

In truth, Hagi was lucky to still be on the pitch to make his dive after his crunching lunge at Conte put the Italian out of the tournament.

Gheorghe Hagi
Shaven-headed Hagi gets in a shot against Italy

That left Portuguese referee Vitor Manuel Melo Pereira with little option but to bring Hagi's curtain call to a premature close following his dive and Hagi left the field still complaining to the referee - and finally to a TV camera filming his exit.

He did at least redeem himself slightly after the game by going into the Italian dressing room to apologise to Conte.

But the beautiful side of Hagi's Jeckyll and Hyde game will be sadly missed and his exit read like an obituary in the Romanian press.

"A star has fallen from the sky", read the headline in Bucharest's ProSport daily, which carried an eight-page report on the game.

"His sports career has been magnificent, but now it is a thing of the past," the paper added.

ProSport editor Catalin Tolontan leaped to Hagi's defence, insisting: "What should we do now?

His sports career has been magnificent, but now it is a thing of the past

Romania's ProSport
"Should we drag Hagi's name through the mud, treat him like a snake because he could not control his temper? Certainly not."

Hagi was also sent off in last month's Uefa Cup final, as his Galatasaray side beat Arsenal on penalties.

The incidents have left a sour taste at the end of the season for Hagi, capped 125 times in a dazzling international career.

But it is unlikely fans have seen the last of the fiery midfielder, as Hagi is seen as a certain future coach of the international side.

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See also:

25 Jun 00 | Italy
Conte blow for Italians
24 Jun 00 | Euro2000
Italy cruise through to last four
14 May 00 | Squad
Gheorghe Hagi
24 Jun 00 | Euro2000
Italy v Romania clockwatch
24 Jun 00 | Photo Gallery
Italy v Romania in pictures
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