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Fans gather for historic Italian version of football where punches and elbows are OK

Caked in mud and with blood streaming from their noses, teams of Italian tough guys yesterday squared up in the annual Calcio tournament - a sport so violent it allows headbutting, punching, elbowing and choking.

Scores of fans flocked to Florence's Piazza Santa Croce to watch the 450-year-old brutal version of football which combines soccer, rugby and wrestling.

Created by Giovanni de Bardi in 1580, Calcio Storico Fiorentino - which translates as Historic Florentine football - sees two 27-man teams jostle in a sandpit arena and try to get a ball in the opponent's net by virtually any means necessary. 

Yesterday's semi-final clash made for extraordinary viewing as chiseled men threw each other into the dirt while a baying crowd of cheering spectators lapped up every explosive second.

Clenched fists clattered into jaws and sprinting players were chopped down with flying spear tackles crashing into their legs. 

But as the players left the pitch spitting dust and nursing their injuries, there were smiles among both winners and losers as they capped off a historic festival of the nation's most shocking sport.  

Clenched fists clattered into jaws and sprinting players were chopped down with flying spear tackles to their legs in Florence's Piazza Santa Croce yesterday for a game of calcio

Yesterday's semi-final clash made for extraordinary viewing as chiseled men threw each other into the dirt while a baying crowd of cheering spectators lapped up every explosive second

The modern version of the game allows head-butting, punching, elbowing, and choking - but kicks to the head are banned and can result in a sending off

Created by Giovanni de Bardi in 1580, Calcio Storico Fiorentino - which translates as Historic Florentine football - sees two 27-man teams jostle in a sandpit arena and try to get a ball in the opponents net by virtually any means necessary

Four teams, Bianchi, Rossi, Verdi and Blu, representing the neighborhoods of Florence face each other in the first semi-finals. The winners go to the final, played every year on June 24, the day of the patron saint of Florence, San Giovanni

The game - which provided the origin for the modern Italian word for football, 'calcio' - sees 27 players on each team attempting to get the ball into the net, using hands or feet, both on the ball and each other

A game lasts 50 minutes, and the winning team is the one who scores most points. The playing field is a giant sand pit with a narrow slit constituting the goal running the width of each end

David and Goliath: A slender man raises his fists and prepares to fight a beefier competitor in the sandpit during yesterday's game of calcio

Get back here! One competitor from the blue team stretches out his hand and tries to pull a ball-carrying opponent back before he can score 

A blue team player locks an opponent's head between his bulging muscles while the white team player tries to wriggle free and lift up his opponent's legs

A white team player smashes back an opponent with a waist-high tackle which the blue team man tries to shake off by clamping down on his head

The ball comes loose as its carrier is bulldozed by a muscular opponent in a brutal tackle during the game of calcio in Florence yesterday

A blue team player squats down low and pins down an opponent in the sand pit to stop him helping his team score a goal in one of the nets

Supporters of the white team cheer on scaffolding before the semifinal match against the blue team of the Calcio Storico Fiorentino 

Snot running from his nose and a bloodied left eye, this player soldiers on in the brutal calcio game which took place in the Piazza Santa Croce yesterday

A blue team player chops down an opponent while he runs with the ball by rugby tackling his legs - but a white team player is moving in from the left to grab him back

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