Italy forward Francesco Totti, one of the biggest names at Euro 2004, has been banned for three matches for spitting at Denmark's Christian Poulsen.
European soccer's governing body (UEFA) ruled on Thursday that Totti had been guilty of "gross unsporting conduct" after viewing video evidence from the Group C game in Guimaraes on Monday which ended 0-0.
"We will not tolerate this kind of behaviour," said UEFA spokesman William Gaillard. "We did not tolerate it in the past and we will not tolerate it in the future."
Totti, looking serious, left the building without comment after a hearing lasting more than three hours in a Lisbon hotel.
The ban means Totti will miss the remaining two Group C games against Sweden and Bulgaria, and the quarter-finals if Italy get that far. It is a serious blow for the Azzurri, who were among the pre-tournament favourites.
The Danish Football Association (DBU) made an official complaint to UEFA following the release of images showing the Italy forward clearly spitting in the face of Poulsen.
"Prosecutors" at the hearing had asked for a four-match suspension. Totti's lawyers wanted a one- or two-match ban.
Italian news agency Ansa quoted the lawyers as saying they were partially satisfied by the ruling which "leaves open the door to a decision on an appeal after seeing the reasons behind the sentence".
Giovanni Trapattoni has built his team around the Roma captain, allowing him a free role, and the coach must now swiftly restructure his side for the game against the in-form Swedes in Porto on Friday.
The incident is also a major blow to the image of Italianfootball which had hoped to put their bitter exit from the World Cup two years ago well behind them.
The Italians were knocked out in the second round of the World Cup to co-hostsSouth Korea in a controversial golden goal defeat in which Totti was sent off for diving.
ThenTotti was seen as the innocent victim of Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno whose alleged bias towards the Koreans was seen as part of a plot to keep Korea in the competition, according to many Italians.
Butthis time there has been little sympathy anywhere for Totti whose status in Italian football is comparable with that enjoyed by David Beckham in England or Ronaldo in Brazil.
The official Italian team brochure produced for Euro 2004describes Totti as "a symbol of Italian football worldwide" and the forward has several lucrative sponsorship deals.
The Totti case recalls an ugly incident at the 1990World Cup when Dutchman Frank Rijkaard spat at German Rudi Voeller during a match in Milan. Both players were suspended, though Voeller returned to help his team win the tournament.
Inthe most recent similar case in European competition, Lazio's Serbian defender Sinisa Mihajlovic was banned for eight games after spitting at Chelsea striker Adrian Mutu in a Champions League match in November.
France playmaker Zinedine Zidane was suspended for two matches at the 1998World Cup for stamping on an opponent, like Voeller returning to the team and going on to win the title.
In the 1994World Cup, Italy's Mauro Tassotti was banned for eight matches for elbowing Spain's Luis Enrique.
Thereferee did not see the incident and Tassotti was charged on video evidence. His ban effectively ended his international career.