Samuel Eto'o punished for Zidane-like headbutt

Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto'o was banned today for three Serie A matches for a headbutt during Chievo's 2-1 win on Sunday after being tried and convicted by league chiefs on television evidence.

It was the last news Inter needed as they lie nine points off the Serie A pace of arch rivals AC Milan after 13 games and have a lengthy injury list.

Serie A said in a statement that Eto'o's headbutt to the chest of defender Cesar, which was not seen by the officials but picked up on television replays, was "premeditated" and constituted "violent conduct".

Inter's Cameroonian top scorer was also fined 30,000 euros ($41,180).

The incident was similar to the infamous headbutt France's Zinedine Zidane committed on Italy defender Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final.

Media reports have said Inter coach Rafael Benitez could be sacked if the holders lose Wednesday's Champions League game against Twente Enschede but club president Massimo Moratti has distanced himself from the speculation.

However, even if Inter win on Wednesday when Eto'o is available, their next three domestic games have suddenly become even more complicated without the league's joint topscorer and Inter's only standout performer in a so far lucklustre campaign.

Under Jose Mourinho, Inter won the treble of league and cup domestic double plus the Champions League last season but a sixth straight Serie A crown already looks unlikely.

Last season's top scorer Diego Milito is among the raft of first teamers who are out injured so Goran Pandev looks likely to be the only recognised striker for next Sunday's home league game with Parma.

Benitez tried to defend Eto'o after the game by saying he had been provoked by Cesar, who hit out at the striker earlier in the match but has escaped punishment.

Precedent in Serie A suggested Eto'o could have faced as much as a five-match ban but he has received just one game more than Juventus winger Milos Krasic, who was suspended for two games last month when television evidence showed he dived.