DUISBURG, July 3 (Reuters) - Germany midfielder Torsten Frings was in the middle of a heated debate between German and Italian media on Monday over his role in a quarter-final punch-up which could lead to a World Cup ban for him.
Frings was among those, including FIFA officials and the referee, who were caught up in chaotic punching and kicking at the end of the quarter-final tie between Germany and Argentina on Friday which the hosts won on penalties.
Television executives from Italy, who next meet Germany in the semi-final in Dortmund on Tuesday, said they had found evidence that Frings threw a punch at Argentina forward Julio Ricardo Cruz in the fracas.
Their film prompted a FIFA investigation to be held later on Monday and that sparked indignation in some German media which said the Italians were simply trying to get one of the best home players suspended for the match.
'Italians want Frings suspended,' read the page one headline in Germany's best-selling Bild daily on Monday. 'Are they so afraid of us?'
An Italian FA spokesman said it had played no part in the process and Cruz was quoted as saying in the Italian sports daily, the Gazzetta dello Sport: 'No, I didn't receive any punch, or at least I didn't feel one.'
FIFA initially said that it was taking no action against any Germany player but later said that 'following new evidence coming to light' it was investigating Frings, who had been considered a certain starter for Tuesday's semi-final.
'The credit goes to our group working in Munich,' Giovanni Bruno, director of Sky Sport told the Italian news agency ANSA.
'It is logical that when there is a brawl you try to find who was involved. With hours of broadcasting to fill, it is quite normal that you look to find the details. After watching the images many times, the guys realised there was Frings's punch and they put it on air,' said Bruno.
'At the start it passed unobserved, then German television station ZDF found out that we were in possession of these images and they asked for them and broadcast them.
'After that all the television stations took our pictures. At that point FIFA asked for the cassette with those pictures,' he added.
A still image of Frings's outstretched arm was also published in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and on Monday the paper wrote that their picture had alerted FIFA.
'On Saturday, FIFA saw the images from the international broadcast but after they had seen the pictures published by Repubblica, that we had taken from Sky (Italia), FIFA asked the broadcaster to provide the video... there was no activity from our Football Federation,' the paper wrote.
Frings has protested his innocence.
'I found myself in a crowd of people where everyone was hitting out wildly,' he told German newspaper Kreiszeitung Syke.
'I took two punches myself. I put out my hands to protect myself, that was all,' he said.
Many German newspapers had relatively sober accounts of the FIFA investigation into Frings, reporting what the newly emerged pictures show and Frings's denial that he was an active participant in the melee at the end of the match.
But some dailies, such as best-selling Bild, emphasised to their readers that the investigation which had already been completed was reopened after at the urging of Italian media.
Argentina defender Leandro Cufre and forward Maxi Rodriguez are also being investigated by FIFA for their role in the fracas.