Top Portuguese team plays with eight men

LISBON (Reuters) -- Portuguese Premier League club Uniao Leiria took to the pitch with only eight players for their match against Feirense on Sunday after 16 squad members submitted collective resignation letters over delays in salary payments.

Portugal's professional football players' union said on Saturday that the resignations meant the match would not take place but Leiria managed to scrape together a team.

Eight stern-faced Leiria players lined up in formation for the pre-match photograph and they then resisted bravely on the pitch until just before the halftime whistle when they conceded the first goal. Feirense went on to win the match 4-0.

Leiria president Joao Bartolomeu said in the post-match news conference that Malian midfielder Keita, who was expected to take part in the match, stole a suitcase of money from the club just before the game started.

The bottom-of-the-table club, who relied on players from the youth team and on loan from Benfica, avoided being punished with automatic relegation and a fine had they failed to field a team for the match.

The club said before the match they had not yet received the players' resignation letters and therefore had not approved their absence from the match.

"This is motive to carry out disciplinary and judicial procedures against the players for damages to the club," Leiria said in a statement.

Leiria's troubles may still influence the title race since they are scheduled to play second-placed Benfica next weekend. Leaders Porto have a seven-point advantage over Benfica with two matches left and will clinch the title if the Lisbon club, who have a game in hand, fail to beat Rio Ave later on Sunday.

The Portuguese Professional Football League (LPFP) is studying new financial protection mechanisms to avoid a repeat of the situation and said that the ongoing sovereign debt crisis in the country has impacted severely on professional football.

Leiria President Bartolomeu was forthright about Keita's alleged theft.

"Keita took possession of 6,000 euros that were in a suitcase, stole the money and ran away with his football kit still on," Bartolomeu said in televised remarks.

"He had someone in a car outside (the stadium) waiting for him and we reported the incident to the police."

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