Germany midfielder Torsten Frings was banned from the World Cup semifinals after a disciplinary committee found him guilty of punching Argentina forward Julio Cruz in a post-match fracas in the quarterfinals.
FIFA's disciplinary committee announced the ban Monday, the eve of Germany's semifinal match against Italy at Dortmund. The 29-year-old Frings was banned for two matches with one suspended for six months and fined 5,000 Swiss francs (euro3,190; US$4,075).
That means Frings can return for either the World Cup final or the third-place playoff, but has a six-month probation period when any other kind of misconduct means he will have to serve the balance of punishment.
Argentina players Maxi Rodriguez and Leandro Cufre were cited after last Friday's match at Berlin and initially all the German players were cleared, but FIFA started an investigation into Frings' involvement after images of the skirmish were broadcast on TV in Germany and Italy.
German media reported Monday that the Italian soccer federation gave FIFA the TV footage that sparked the investigation, hoping to have the hardworking midfielder suspended for the semifinal. FIFA and the Italian federation denied that any national association had lobbied for the investigation.
Frings was contacted late Sunday and asked to submit his account of the incident to FIFA's disciplinary committee by July third morning. It took the committee more than four hours to find him guilty of violent conduct.
"We want first to see the grounds for the verdict, until then we won't be commenting," German soccer federation spokesman Harald Stenger said.
Earlier, Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann said Frings was defending himself after violence erupted following the host nation's 4-2 win in the penalty shootout.
"We have to remember the brawl originated from Argentina. We were only reacting. After the game, emotions ran high. The referee reacted, that should be it," Klinsmann said.
The mass-circulation Bild newspaper carried a front-page headline on Monday that said "Italians want Frings suspended!" "Are the Italians afraid of us, or why are they calling for a suspension for Torsten Frings?" the accompanying article asked. "Let me make it clear, there was no attempt whatever from the Italian federation to incite FIFA into doing something," FIFA communications director Markus Siegler said. "The footage was not presented to us from Italian TV stations, it was shown in Germany." Footage from the 24 TV cameras at Berlin's Olympic Stadium had to be reviewed because Frings's involvement did not appear on the official match broadcast, he said.
"New TV images were presented that possibly Torsten Frings was slapping the face of an Argentine player or hitting him in the head," Siegler said.
Reacting to German media reports, the Italian soccer federation on Monday denied asking FIFA to charge Frings in the hope that the midfielder ousted for the semifinals.
"We have done nothing, there has been no initiatives on our behalf against Germany or the federation," Italian federation chief Antonello Valentini told Sky Italia TV on Monday. "There is no effort on our behalf to create hostility, friction or to denounce anybody; We'll try to win the match on the field. We have no interest that Frings be punished if FIFA doesn't believe he should be."
The disciplinary panel made the quick decision on Frings, hoping to reduce the impact on Germany's preparations for the semifinals. Cufre and Rodriguez have until Wednesday to present their cases. The disciplinary committee has not given a timeframe for when, if any, punishments are applied.
England's Wayne Rooney, who was sent off for violent conduct in the quarterfinal loss to Portugal, has until July 6 to make a statement to the committee regarding his red card.