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World Cup pitch invader defends 'breaking the rules'

— Rome (AFP)

The Italian who ran on to the World Cup pitch wearing a T-shirt in support of Ukraine and Iranian women is a football player with a history of similar stunts.

Mario Ferri, 35, who calls himself "The Falcon", interrupted the Portugal-Uruguay game on Monday when he sprinted on to the pitch wearing a blue Superman T-shirt with "Save Ukraine" on the front and "Respect for Iranian Woman" on the back.

He also carried a rainbow-coloured flag adorned with the words PACE, meaning peace in Italian.

"I'm BACK," wrote the footballer on his Instagram page, where he describes himself as a "modern pirate".

Ferri said he wanted to send "important messages", including for Iran "where I have friends who are suffering, where women are not respected".

"FIFA banned rainbow captain's armbands and human rights flags in the stands, they blocked everyone, BUT NOT ME, like a Robin Hood," he wrote.

"SAVE UKRAINE. I spent a month in the war in Kyiv as a volunteer and saw how much those people are suffering," he wrote, adding that "breaking the rules for a good cause is never a crime".

Italy's foreign ministry confirmed Ferri had been briefly detained following the pitch invasion, before being "released by the authorities without any further consequences".

Gay rights and the use of the rainbow flag have been a simmering issue at the World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal. The rainbow features in both the flag for LGBTQ rights and the peace flag.

According to the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper, Ferri has played football in India, Jordan, San Marino, the Seychelles and Switzerland.

In 2010, Ferri invaded the Club World Cup pitch in Abu Dhabi during an Inter-Mazembe game furling an AC Milan scarf.

Four years later during the World Cup in Brazil, he again sported his Superman T-shirt as he ran onto the field during a Belgium-USA game.

The T-shirt read "Save the children of the favelas," or the slums of Brazilian cities, with underneath it "Ciro lives", in memory of Naples fan Ciro Esposito who shot by an ultra before the Coppa Italia final. He later died.

In 2017, Ferri threw a Naples scarf in the face of Juventus player Gonzalo Higuain during a Naples-Juventus match.

"I decided to avenge the Neapolitans for Higuain's move to Juventus," he told Corriere dello Sport.

"I said, 'Traitor!' and left."

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