(CBS/AP) A rejected handshake before the Liverpool-Manchester United match on Saturday fueled a halftime skirmish, condemnation from soccer officials and even a reaction from the prime minister.
Players from both teams had to be separated in the tunnel at halftime after Liverpool's Luis Suarez refused to shake the hand of United's Patrice Evra before kickoff. Suarez was making his first start since serving an eight-match ban for racially abusing Evra in October.
Police and stewards had to shepherd the players into their dressing rooms at halftime after an altercation ensued when Evra tried to confront Suarez.
When the second half started, Rooney scored twice in the opening four minutes to place United firmly in control.
Suarez apologized Sunday while Liverpool criticized its player for the first time in this protracted racism dispute that has tarnished the reputation of one of England's storied clubs.
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, who passionately defended Suarez during a post-match television interview, and the club's American owners also found themselves under fire. Critics contended this episode reignited the racial issues that have blighted English soccer this season.
However, Suarez, whose career has been filled with controversy, acknowledged he "made a mistake and I regret what happened."
"I have spoken with the manager since the game at Old Trafford and I realize I got things wrong," Suarez said in a statement released on Liverpool's official website. "I've not only let him down, but also the club and what it stands for and I'm sorry."
Dalglish also apologized Sunday for his confrontational manner during that interview in which he said critics were "bang out of order" for blaming Suarez for subsequent events in an ill-tempered game between England's two most successful clubs.
Players from both teams reportedly clashed outside the dressing room at halftime requiring police intervention while Evra whipped up home fans with exuberant post-match celebrations, in front of Suarez.
Dalglish and Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre both said Suarez had misled everyone at the club.
"I was shocked to hear that the player had not shaken hands having been told earlier in the week that he would do," Dalglish said.
In a separate statement, Ayre said the team is "extremely disappointed" and it is "absolutely clear" Suarez's behavior "was not acceptable."
United accepted the apologies of Suarez and Dalglish, saying: "Everyone at Old Trafford wants to move on from this. The history of our two great clubs is one of success and rivalry unparalleled in British football. That should be the focus in the future of all those who love the clubs."
This saga began Oct. 15 when Suarez repeatedly racially abused Evra during a league match at Anfield. Liverpool, owned by the parent company of the Boston Red Sox, was condemned by anti-racism groups for backing Suarez and allowing players and Dalglish to wear T-shirts featuring Suarez's picture in a show of solidarity before a match against Wigan weeks later. Dalglish later tried to dismiss claims the club wasn't interested in fighting racism.
Speaking before Suarez apologized, Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, urged Fenway Sports Group to discipline the striker.
"It is a matter for the owners. This has to be dealt with at the highest level to resolve this festering mess," said Taylor, who branded Suarez's conduct as "disrespectful, inappropriate and embarrassing."
United manager Alex Ferguson called Suarez a "disgrace," saying he should never play again for a club that has won the English title 18 times.
This matter has played out in front of a huge global TV audience. It has even prompted the government to get involved, with Prime Minister David Cameron planning a summit on the issue this month.
Jeremy Hunt, Britain's culture secretary, stressed the importance of being "on our mettle" at making sure soccer authorities and the government do everything they can to stamp out racism in soccer.
Chelsea defender John Terry recently lost the England captaincy after being charged by police with racially abusing Anton Ferdinand during a league match Oct. 23. Terry will appear in court in July, eight days after the final of the European Championships.
On Saturday, Greater Manchester Police said it had confiscated 7,500 copies of United's "Red Issue" fanzine, which featured a cutout Ku Klux Klan-style mask bearing the words, "LFC Suarez is innocent."