Italy warms up for World Cup - with rampant soccer scandal

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Worst affected is Juventus, one of the world's most famous clubs, which will win its 29th scudetto today if it beats lowly Reggina. The general manager, Luciano Moggi, has been exposed in tapped phone calls as having leant on referees, the entire board has resigned and several players, including Italy's national goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, are under investigation over separate allegations of illegal betting. But the stench of corruption has spread to other clubs, including Silvio Berlusconi's Milan, which could also win the league today if they beat Roma and Juventus lose. Along with Napoli and Fiorentina, Milan and Juventus are part of an investigation into "criminal association" and "sporting fraud", in which 19 matches are being examined on suspicion that results were fixed.

On Friday police raided the offices of the Italian Football Federation, whose head, Franco Carraro, has resigned, and yesterday the federation announced that it was withdrawing its proposed referee for the World Cup, along with two assistant referees, because all three were under investigation.

In the eye of the storm is Mr Moggi, 68. Investigators who tapped his phone for a year leaked some of the transcripts. In one he is heard telling Paolo Dandarini, who was about to referee a Juventus match: "You know what you have to do. Make sure you see everything - even that which isn't there." He made frequent calls to Pierluigi Pairetto, joint head of the Italian referees' association, to influence the choice of officials, and is heard upbraiding Mr Pairetto - once for providing a referee who allowed a goal against Juventus, another time for not securing a referee Mr Moggi had asked for. The official unctuously apologises, and promises to do better.

One of Mr Moggi's favourite tactics, it is alleged, was to ensure that top players in other teams got yellow cards, so that they were suspended when they were due to face Juventus. But the most direct grip he exercised on results was through the players. Mr Moggi's 32-year-old son Alessandro is the boss of GEA, the biggest and most important players' agency in Italy, which controls 200 professional players and 24 coaches. When Juventus played Siena last month, seven of the players in the Siena line-up were on GEA's books: Juventus won the game 3-0. GEA is the subject of a separate criminal investigation.

In such circumstances one would expect that the conduct of today's Juventus match against Reggina will be closely scrutinised. With some reason: one of the allegations against Mr Moggi is that in November 2004, when Reggina beat Juventus, he locked the referee and two linesmen in a changing room after the game.

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