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Vukovic ban shortened to revive Olympic hopes

MELBOURNE, April 23 (Reuters) - Australian league goalkeeper Danny Vukovic has had his nine-month ban for manhandling referee Mark Shields reduced to six months and split to allow him to play at the Beijing Olympics. Vukovic, who plays for the Central Coast Mariners club, was initially suspended for 15 months after being sent off during the A-League final in February. The ban was later reduced to nine months on appeal. An independent committee ruled on Wednesday that his suspension be further reduced, Football Federation Australia said in a statement. 'The effect of the appeals committee decision means that Vukovic will not be eligible to play in the A-League competition again until Oct. 6, but he is eligible for selection to the Australian Olympic team,' the FFA said. The 23-year-old will also be on probation for three months until Jan. 25. Vukovic, who was fined A$10,000 ($9,490), was sent off after striking Shield on the arm. Central Coast players had remonstrated with the referee after he failed to award them a spot kick for a blatant handball by Newcastle midfielder James Holland. A penalty would have given the Mariners the chance of an equaliser to force the championship decider into extra-time but Shield waved away their pleas. Vukovic's club chairman said he was pleased with the outcome. 'I am delighted for Danny, who is a tremendous young man, that he is eligible for selection for the Olympic team,' said Mariners executive chairman Lyall Gorman. 'Danny an integral part of the team, having played every minute of all 14 qualifying games that secured Australia their berth in Beijing.'