* Eight-man Leiria lose 4-0 to Feirense
* Leiria say player stole suitcase of money before match
(Updates with theft accusation)
By Daniel Alvarenga
LISBON, April 29 (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
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
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
Leiria President Bartolomeu was forthright about Keita's alleged theft.
"Keita took possession of 6,000 euros ($8,000) that were in a suitcase,
stole the money and ran away with his football kit still on," Bartolomeu said in
"He had someone in a car outside (the stadium) waiting for him and we
reported the incident to the police."
($1 = 0.7542 euros)
(Reporting By Daniel Alvarenga, editing by Ed Osmond)
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