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Croatia defender Josip Simunic loses appeal at sports court over World Cup ban

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ZAGREB, Croatia - Croatia defender Josip Simunic lost his appeal at sport's highest court on Monday, ruling him out of the World Cup for leading fans in a pro-Nazi chant after a playoff win.

Announcing the ruling to uphold the 10-match ban, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said it unanimously rejected Simunic's arguments and dismissed his appeal against the FIFA sanction.

Simunic's ban will start when Croatia opens the World Cup against host Brazil in Sao Paulo on June 12.

Simunic's lawyer, Davor Prtenjaca, slammed the ruling.

"This was not the victory of justice, but the power of a big football association. FIFA had its ban based on political, not legal aspects," Prtenjaca said.

Simunic invoked a World War II-era slogan used by Croatia's then-puppet regime following a playoff victory against Iceland in Zagreb last November that qualified the Croatians for the tournament.

After the match, Simunic took a microphone on the field and shouted to supporters: "To the battle, to the battle for the homeland!" The fans responded: "We are ready!"

The slogan was used by Croatia's Ustasha regime, which sent tens of thousands Jews, Serbs, Gypsies and anti-Fascist Croats to death camps.

"The expression used by Simunic was a clear and unequivocal reference to the call used by the (Ustasas)," CAS said.

FIFA's disciplinary panel has said Simunic's action was discriminatory and offensive. The sanction reflected its commitment to harsher sanctions for racism and discrimination at matches.

"FIFA considers that CAS gives a clear and strong support to FIFA's efforts in stamping out racism in football," football's governing body said in a statement.

Simunic, who plays for Dinamo Zagreb, apologized after previously defending his action. After the initial reaction, he said: "Some people have to learn some history. I'm not afraid. I did nothing wrong."

The 36-year-old Australian-born Simunic, who has played 105 times for Croatia, was a probable selection for his third World Cup. At the 2006 tournament, he was sent off against Australia after being shown three yellow cards by the referee.

His current ban is likely to mean the end of his international playing career.

Croatian Football Association President Davor Suker said he was sorry for Simunic.

"FIFA, UEFA and the Croatian FA have well known stands regarding racism and discrimination and this (court) decision is their reflection," Suker said. "However, Josip made a big contribution on our road to Brazil and the national team will at the World Cup certainly play for him as well."

Simunic is also barred from stadiums where Croatia will play its next 10 official games. He was fined 30,000 Swiss francs (then $33,800) last December by FIFA.

___

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva and Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.

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