Simunic banned for 10 games for pro-Nazi chant

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ZURICH (AP) - GENEVA (AP) _ FIFA has banned Croatian defender Josip Simunic for 10 games _ including the entire World Cup _ for leading fans in a pro-Nazi chant after the team qualified for next year's tournament in Brazil.

Simunic invoked a World War II-era slogan used by Croatia's then-puppet regime following a 2-0 playoff victory against Iceland last month.

"After taking into account all of the circumstances of the case, and particularly given the gravity of the incident, the committee decided to suspend the player for 10 official matches," FIFA said in a statement.

Michel Platini, president of the Union of European Football Associations, described Croatian fans as the worst behaved at the 2012 European Championship.

The sanction reflected FIFA's commitment to harsher sanctions for racism and discrimination at matches.

Croatian coach Niko Kovac, a teammate of Simunic at the 2006 World Cup, said the ban probably ended the 35-year-old defender's national team career.

"I'm unpleasantly surprised, shocked and disappointed by FIFA's ban of Simunic," Kovac said. "I'm primarily sad for Simunic who will miss the World Cup. I know him for long as a player and a person and I'm sure he did not want to offend anyone."

Kovac said Croatia's soccer federation will appeal to FIFA. If that fails, a challenge at the Court of Arbitration for Sport could follow.

Croatia hosted Iceland in Zagreb on Nov. 19 for a decisive qualifying match after a 0-0 tie in the first leg.

After the match, Simunic took a microphone on the field and shouted to supporters: "For the homeland!" The fans responded: "Ready!"

FIFA said Monday that the salute was "discriminatory and offended the dignity of a group of persons concerning ... race, religion or origin."

Simunic is barred from the stadiums where Croatia will play its next 10 games. He said he felt "bitter and shocked," according to Damir Vrbanovic, managing director of Croatia's soccer federation

"It is clear that FIFA wanted to send a strong message with this draconian punishment," Vrbanovic said.

FIFA also fined Simunic 30,000 Swiss francs ($33,800) and ordered the federation to pay a fine of 70,000 Swiss francs ($78,700).

Simunic previously defended his action, saying he was driven by love for his country.

The Australian-born player famously was ejected at the 2006 World Cup against Australia after receiving three yellow cards.

In a separate FIFA disciplinary decision, Croatian star forward Mario Mandzukic was banned for just one World Cup match for a red card against Iceland. Mandzukic will miss the tournament's opening match, when Croatia plays host Brazil in Sao Paulo on June 12.

"We knew that Mandzukic will be punished and in that context we are happy it's a one-match suspension," Kovac said.

The FIFA panel imposed the minimum sanction on Mandzukic for serious foul play.

The Bayern Munich forward, who scored the opening goal minutes earlier, was sent off for stamping on Iceland midfielder Johann Gudmundsson's left knee.


Stojanovic reported from Belgrade, Serbia.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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