The seven members of China's Olympic soccer team sent home following a brawl during a match against English club Queens Park Rangers face an investigation into their behavior.
The China under-23 team's Feb. 7 match against QPR ended 15 minutes early with the English team leading 2-1 after players from both teams fought on the field. Chinese player Zheng Tao, who was left unconscious after the brawl, was hospitalized and suffered a broken jaw.
The Chinese Football Association said late Friday it had launched an investigation and would punish those responsible.
"Under no circumstances does the Chinese Football Association have any tolerance for such behavior from our national team players. We will investigate the incident and strictly punish those responsible," spokesman Dong Hua said in a statement on the CFA's Web site.
One of the seven who arrived at the Beijing airport was a contrite Gao Lin, identified as one of the instigators of the on-field fight, which broke out when Gao attempted to kick the ball while jumping into an opposing player. The two crashed to the ground and the fight began.
"It is a pity, I must apologize to all, I am the main person responsible for this incident, I shall bear all consequences," Gao said in a low voice, according to the Beijing Youth Daily.
Other players were more defiant and blamed the QPR players for starting the violence, which at one point involved about 30 people, the AP reports.
"They kicked us. If someone suddenly beats you, what is your reaction? It's the instinct for protecting ourselves," Lu Zheng was quoted as saying by the Beijing Morning News.
The China team arrived in England nearly two weeks ago at the invitation of Premier League club Chelsea, which is trying to get a foothold in the lucrative Chinese market. Chelsea announced a new Chinese-language Web site last month in Beijing.