FIFA Suspends Maradona For Two Months

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ZURICH (AP) -- FIFA has banned Argentina coach Diego Maradona from all football activities for two months for his expletive-filled rants aimed at journalists after his team qualified for the World Cup.

FIFA's disciplinary committee heard Maradona give evidence during a three-hour hearing Sunday before excluding him from football until January 15.

The 49-year-old coach will miss Argentina's friendly against the Czech Republic scheduled December 16. He also was fined 25,000 Swiss francs ($24,250; euro16,500).

FIFA said Maradona apologized to the world football family during his 40-minute appearance before the panel, which had the authority to ban him from World Cup matches in South Africa next year.

"The committee took into consideration the apologies, and the sincere remorse shown by Maradona, in its decision," FIFA said in a statement.

The 1986 World Cup-winning captain launched his profane tirade at media critics after Argentina beat Uruguay 1-0 in its final qualifier last month in Montevideo.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter referred the outburst to the governing body's disciplinary panel which opened a case and invited Maradona to explain his behavior.

The Argentina icon arrived at FIFA's headquarters in Zurich direct from Madrid, where his team was beaten 2-1 by European champion Spain in a friendly Saturday.

Maradona arrived for the hearing 50 minutes after the scheduled start time, waving to journalists and a small group of flag-waving Argentina supporters from the back of a limousine.

He left more than 2- 1/2 hours later, looking more serious having been told his punishment.

Maradona appeared before a select group of officials drawn from the 17-member disciplinary panel, which was chaired by Swiss lawyer Marcel Mathier.

They had to decide if Maradona had breached Article 58 of FIFA's discipline code by "(offending) the dignity of a person or group of persons through contemptuous, discriminatory or denigratory words."

That offense carries a mandatory five-match stadium ban which, if applied to competitive matches, would have sidelined Argentina's coach until after the World Cup quarterfinals stage.

However, Maradona was judged by Article 57 relating to "offensive gestures or language."

"The committee stressed that any breach of this decision or any repetition of a similar incident would mean that stronger sanctions would have to be imposed," FIFA said.

Maradona's return is likely to be for a March 3 friendly against Germany in Munich.

Revered by fans in Argentina, he has had a tense relationship with Argentine media since becoming national team coach one year ago, midway through a stuttering qualifying campaign.

His team then lost four of its next six qualifiers, including a 6-1 thrashing in Bolivia and a 3-1 home loss to old rival Brazil, before winning its final two matches to clinch its passage to South Africa.

Maradona will seek to become the third man, after Brazil's Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer of West Germany, to play for and then coach a World Cup winner.

Inspired by Maradona as captain, Argentina lifted the trophy in 1986 and lost the 1990 final to Beckenbauer's side.

Maradona was sent home in disgrace from the 1994 tournament in the United States after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.