Football: Around The World: Empoli president denies match-fixing claims

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FABRIZIO CORSI, the president of the Italian club Empoli, has denied that either he or his club were involved in an alleged match-fixing attempt before Sunday's Serie A game against Sampdoria.

The Italian Football Federation has opened an investigation following a report from the designated match referee, Stefano Farina.

Farina told officials on Saturday that Lorenzo Repetta, the mayor of the small town of Castelletto d'Orba, had approached him, claiming to be a friend of Corsi and asking him to "help" Empoli. The Federation responded to the report by replacing Farina with the reserve referee, Piero Ceccarini. Sampdoria won the game 3-0.

Both Repetta and Corsi have denied any wrongdoing. "This whole story is absurd. It has nothing to do with me or with Empoli. I never tried to bribe the referee, that's just a lie that discredits both me and Empoli," Corsi said.

Repetta said the match-fixing allegations were a result of a misunderstanding. He said he had approached Farina to ask him for "help" in arranging a charity match for a sick child from his town. "I'm the one who, as mayor, needs the help. Empoli has nothing to do with it," Repetta insisted.

Empoli are currently fourth from bottom in Serie A with three points from five games. Under Federation rules, even if there was no proof of the involvement of a director, employee or club member in any attempted corruption, the club could still face penalties that range from compulsory relegation to Serie B to the deduction of points in Serie A.

Elsewhere in yesterday, the former Middlesbrough striker Fabrizio Ravanelli, now with Marseilles, was questioned yesterday by the Turin magistrate Raffaele Guariniello, who is leading an inquiry into alleged drug use in Serie A.

South Africa

TWO SOUTH African players were hospitalised on Sunday, after a bolt of lightning struck the pitch at a Premier League game between Moroka Swallows and Jomo Cosmos.

The match produced amazing television footage as, with 12 minutes left to play, lightning struck the ground and left at least seven players and the referee flat out. Coaches, team doctors and some of the 2,000 spectators at the stadium on the outskirts of Johannesburg, streamed onto the pitch to help the players as they writhed on the ground holding their heads in pain and shock.

As lightning continued around the George Goch stadium, the injured were carried off to the changing-rooms with ice-packs on their heads. Doctors said several were suffering from dangerously irregular heartbeats. Four players were left unconscious by the thunderbolt, one for 15 minutes. The game was abandoned with Cosmos leading 2-0.

Cosmos' coach, Jomo Sono, expressed sympathy for those left dazed and confused - but hinted in a post-match interview that some Swallows players may have dropped to the ground faking injury in an attempt to force the game to be called off.

Jayr Emelio Mazzoni, the coach of Moroka Swallows, denied this, pointing out that two Cosmos players were also hurt. The two players detained in hospital on Sunday night were released yesterday.

United States

CHICAGO FIRE completed their first year of existence by beating the twice title winners, Washington DC United, to claim the Major League Soccer championship on Sunday.

Two first-half goals and a tough defensive performance gave Chicago a 2-0 victory over the heavily backed DC United, who had won the first two MLS Cups (the end-of-season play-off final).

The Fire denied Washington their third straight title in front of 51,350 fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, thanks to goals by Jerzy Podbrozny and Diego Gutierrez.

"To come away with a victory is very special," said Chicago's coach, Bob Bradley, who was an assistant coach at DC United in 1996 and 1997.

Bruce Arena, Washington's coach, is leaving the club for the top job in American soccer. The 47-year-old will be confirmed today as the coach of the US national team, in succession to Steve Sampson, who resigned after the World Cup.

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Arena's playing career was restricted to college soccer in the States, but he coached the US Olympic team at Atlanta in 1996.