Wow, that is one stacked team

On Soccer

The mad hares of March have left the scene, leaving behind an assortment of strange goings-on to reflect upon in April.

From the "you can fool some of the people some of the time" file, for instance, come these odd tales, gathered over the last few weeks.

We begin in Greece, where officials from Aris Thessaloniki are still trying to get over the embarrassment of a photograph that mistakenly made its way into the club's game program.

Aris was scheduled to play Manchester City in a Europa League game and program compilers scrambled to find a team photograph of the English Premier League club.

Sad to say, the one they selected and published turned out to be a spoof photograph digitally put together by the website of England's Guardian newspaper to poke fun at Manchester City's free-spending ways.

The Manchester City "team" that appeared in the Aris program featured, among others, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Xavi, Diego Forlan, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, Wesley Sneijder, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gianluigi Buffon, Arjen Robben and many other top-name players with no connection to Manchester City.

The error was caught on the eve of the game and Aris apologized to Manchester City for the gaffe. The programs were ordered destroyed.

Not all were shredded, however, and at least one made its way to eBay. The winning bidder paid a tidy $157.09 for the item.

Czech the names

Aris Thessalonika's mistake was an honest, if stupid, one. In the Czech Republic, however, Sparta Prague's shenanigans were a deliberate attempt to deceive.

With a game against Liverpool in the Europa League coming up, the team claimed that three of its key players, Czech internationals Vaclav Kadlec and Tomas Pekhart and Croatian international Manuel Pamic, were ill or injured and unavailable to represent their respective countries.

Sparta then played all three in a friendly game against Zenit St. Petersburg, giving the trio jerseys bearing the names of other players and disguising their identity in the lineup sheets. Since the game was played in Spain, supposedly far from observant eyes, Sparta might have gotten away with the ruse.

But the hoodwinking attempt was exposed when a Czech journalist, perusing game photos on Zenit's website, spotted something odd — Sparta's 6-foot-4 white striker Pekhart playing in the jersey of 6-2 black midfielder Martin Abena of Cameroon.

Sparta compounded its error by claiming that "relatively unknown Pavel Kaderabek scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Zenit," knowing all the while that it was Kadlec, wearing Kaderabek's jersey, who had scored the goals.

The club made Coach Jozef Chovanec the scapegoat, blaming him for trying to hide the players' identities.

Belgian waffle

Then there was the tale of FC Brugge goalkeeper Stijn Stijnen, who appeared to be a fan favorite in Belgium when comments describing him as "hero," wonderful" and "tops" appeared on the club's website at the same time that the team's other two goalkeepers were being harshly criticized.

Brugge tracked the e-mails and found they had come from Stijnen's brother and girlfriend.

Stijnen is now a former FC Brugge goalkeeper.

Colombian wake

Attendance at a game in Colombia last week between Cucuta Deportivo and Envigado included an unknown but sizeable number of fans and one cadaver.

No, the deceased fan did not die in the stands, he was already in his coffin when he was carried into the stadium late in the game after the gates were opened to allow people to leave early.

According to reports, members of Cucuta Barra del Indio fan group attending the funeral of one of their own, a 17-year-old who had been killed in a drive-by shooting, decided to treat him to one final game.

So, before laying Christopher Jacome to rest, they carried his casket to General Santander Stadium and held it aloft in the stands during the latter part of a game.

Jacome's family approved of the odd detour.

"He loved the game and he loved his team, so what better way to honor him?" his mother, Yamile, said.

As Cucuta team doctor Julio Rivera observed, "This is the only part of the world where this has happened."

French whines

Finally, France provided both the strangest quote and the saddest story of recent weeks.

The quote came from former France national coach Raymond Domenech, the man in charge during France's World Cup meltdown last summer.

"I'm not the moron that people are describing me as," Domenech said. Further comment is surely unnecessary.

The sad tale involved a fan of the French team, one Olivier Demolis, a man wealthy enough to collect actual, honest-to-goodness game-worn shirts from his heroes.

Demolis' collection includes the jerseys worn by France's 1998 World Cup-winning team members, including Zinedine Zidane. He needed one more to complete the set, and paid $9,665 on eBay for a jersey worn by David Trezeguet when playing against Brazil during the tournament.

Now comes the sad bit.

French customs officials, believing the jersey was a counterfeit, intercepted it and destroyed it.

Demolis' reaction was understandable. "I went mad," he told Le Dauphine newspaper.

Mad as a March hare, no doubt, and justifiably so.

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