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   June 18, 2002 | 1840 IST


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Pinto suspended till punch decision

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Adrian Warner

Portugal forward Joao Pinto has been suspended from "all match activity" until FIFA makes a decision on his punishment for punching Argentine referee Angel Sanchez during a stormy World Cup game with South Korea.

World soccer's governing body said it had its own video of the incident which formed a key part of Tuesday's disciplinary committee meeting involving Sanchez.

Joao PintoJoao Pinto could be banned and sanctions could also be taken against Portugal captain Fernando Couto who manhandled the referee after he showed the red card.

A FIFA statement did not say when it expected the committee to make a decision, but added that the committee had asked for additional information. Portugal have already been eliminated so the provisional suspension has only symbolic effect.

"The evidence already in possession of FIFA, i.e. the reports submitted by the referee of the match, the match commissary and the referee inspector indicate that Joao Pinto, when shown the red card, punched referee Angel Sanchez of Argentina in the stomach," the statement said.

"The act of hitting a referee is considered to be a serious violation of the Disciplinary Code.

"Given the serious nature of the offence of which the player is accused and in order to take a decision in full cognizance of all facts, the Disciplinary Committee has already requested...additional information."

Earlier, FIFA communications director Keith Cooper declined to say what the video showed.

But one FIFA source said: "You can see the referee flinch."

The punch was not clearly visible on broadcast television pictures of the Portugal players' protests, which took place immediately after Joao Pinto was sent off during the Koreans' 1-0 first round victory last Friday. The defeat ended Portugal's World Cup campaign.

But a FIFA video camera placed near the corner flag with a clear line of sight to the referee has recorded the first-half protests in the group D game.

"There are video pictures from another camera which have shed new light on the incident," Cooper told a news conference.

FIFA placed the camera there to record the match for technical purposes.

The world governing body also took still photographs of the bruise under the ribs of Sanchez, which the referee said in an interview with Portuguese radio had been caused by the punch.


Joao Pinto was one of two Portuguese players to be sent off in an intense atmosphere in Inchon where the Korean team were roared on by a hugely partisan crowd. Beto Severo was dismissed for a second yellow card later in the game.

Players are not allowed to touch the referee. Joao Pinto could face a hefty match ban which could rule him out of much of the 2004 European championship finals in Portugal.

The Portuguese qualify automatically as hosts and will therefore only play friendlies in the next two years. Only competitive games count in match bans imposed by the world governing body.

Couto could be in trouble for putting his hands on the cheeks of Sanchez -- an action which was picked up on the television cameras and broadcast around the world.

Cooper has declined to speculate on what action the disciplinary committee would take.

But Portugal defender Abel Xavier was banned for nine months for manhandling a referee in protest after they went out of the 2000 European championship in the semi-finals against France through a golden goal. The ban was later reduced on appeal.

"The general rule is that the referee should not be touched," Cooper said. "Players always run the risk by laying hands on the referee. The wisest thing is: 'Hands Off'."

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