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By ESPN Staff

Materazzi punished because he is Italian - minister

ROME, July 21 (Reuters) - FIFA discriminated against Italy when it decided to punish defender Marco Materazzi for provoking French captain Zinedine Zidane during the World Cup final, Italy's sports minister said on Friday.

Zidane head-butted Materazzi in the chest after being insulted and was sent off shortly before the end of the game. Italy went on to win the final after a penalty shootout.

Both players were fined and given match bans by soccer's world governing body on Thursday, in a ruling that has incensed many in Italy.

Sports Minister Giovanna Melandri said the fact that FIFA president Sepp Blatter had not taken part in the final award ceremony, was also a sign of anti-Italian feelings within world soccer's governing body.

'I understand those who saw the award ceremony and yesterday's verdict and think that there is a discriminatory attitude torwards Italy,' Melandri told a news conference, adding however that the Rome government accepted FIFA's decision.

Zidane, who has retired as a player, was fined 7,500 Swiss francs and handed a three-match ban by FIFA's disciplinary committee. As he is no longer a player, he will undertake three days of community services on FIFA's behalf as part of their humanitarian activities.

Materazzi, who admitted insulting Zidane, was given a two-match ban and fined 5,000 Swiss francs.

He will miss Italy's opening two Euro 2008 qualifiers against Lithuania and France in September.

Lawmakers from the Green party, part of Prime Minister Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition, said Prodi and Melandri will have to explain in parliament 'what they intend to do to protect the image of Italian football'.

'There is a clear disproportion between the punishment given to Materazzi and the one given to Zidane. FIFA has set a very dangerous precedent. From now on everybody will feel authorised to react violently to an insult,' said one of the lawmakers, Tommaso Pellegrino.