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Frings Banned from Germany-Italy Match

BERLIN (AP) - Germany's Torsten Frings was banned from the World Cup semifinals after a disciplinary committee found he punched 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.

"We are disappointed," Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff said. "Our opinion was that we laid down the reasons for an acquittal."

The 29-year-old midfielder was banned for two matches - with one suspended for six months - and fined $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. If he commits any other kind of misconduct, he would have to serve the balance of punishment.

Despite handing down a partially suspended ban because it found that Frings had been provoked, the disciplinary committee condemned his reaction as "tantamount to an assault."

"The judgment pronounced on Frings was the result of the unequivocal television images showing his assault on Cruz. Neither the (German federation) nor the player could refute the objective evidence at hand," the committee said in a statement.

But Bierhoff said Frings had been reacting to provocation. The referee, Lubos Michel, and his assistants were directly next to Frings and had not taken action against the German midfielder.

"All we can do now is accept the decision. We will now concentrate on the Italy game and we are optimistic that Frings will return for the final," Bierhoff said.

Frings' absence is a major setback for Germany. The midfielder has been one of Germany's best players, creating attacking opportunities and carrying out a lot of the defensive work in tandem with captain Michael Ballack. Frings is likely to be replaced by Sebastian Kehl, a rugged Borussia Dortmund midfielder with similar qualities.

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 the reports.

"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."

The Italian soccer federation said it contacted its counterpart in Germany to deny the news reports.

"We have done nothing, there has been no initiatives on our behalf against Germany," 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."

Frings was contacted late Sunday and asked to submit his account of the incident to FIFA's disciplinary committee by Monday morning. It took the committee more than four hours to find him guilty of violent conduct. Footage from the 24 TV cameras at Berlin's Olympic Stadium had to be reviewed because Frings' involvement did not appear on the official match broadcast, Siegler said.

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 Thursday to make a statement to the committee regarding his red card.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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