An Italian job lot

Berlusconi's match-fixing verdict: 'Our best players will be forced to play abroad. Well done. Justice served'
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The Independent Online

From the top of the world to the dregs of the game. Having won the World Cup only last weekend, Italy is now having to come to terms with four of its and the Continent's biggest clubs being found guilty in a match-fixing case of staggeringimpact.

The punishments are severe: Juventus, the champions, relegated and hit with a 30-point deduction for next season in Serie B; Fiorentina relegated and docked 12 points for next season; Lazio, relegated and docked seven points; and Milan docked 44 points in last season's standings, dropping them to eighth place and outside the qualifying places for European competition. Not relegated they will start next season with a 15-point deficit. The clubs are appealing against the ruling.

The scale of the deceit, the scale of the punishment is difficult to comprehend. Only Roma among the champions of the past 15 seasons remain untouched. In English terms, that equates to Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool being accused of wholesale cheating. Those four have won all but two of the past 20 titles.

But the response to the sentences has been mixed within Italy. Perhaps predictably given that Milan received the lightest sentence, a spokesman for Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister who owns Milan, said: "This sentence on soccer strikes at nearly 20 million fans. Our best players will be forced to play abroad. Well done. Justice served."

But Italy's Justice Minister, Clemente Mastella, was hardly delighted with the decision, saying that the game as a whole was not corrupt. "At least I'm not the sports justice minister. I can't agree with the sentence," he said. "I don't believe that the whole system is rotten. There are some amputations that need to be made but an Italian soccer that wins the World Cup frankly can't be great abroad and less than that at home."

However, some thought that rough justice was needed to purge the sport of chronic corruption. Prime Minister Romano Prodi said those guilty "have to pay, even if we are world champions".

Didier Deschamps, appointed on Monday as successor to Fabio Capello as Juve's coach, insisted yesterday that he had not made a mistake. "The penalty we have been given is a big one, but we can only do our best," he said. "It is going to be difficult to get back to Serie A in one year, and it might take two, but even so, we will give it our best shot. I have never had any doubts and I made my choice [to coach Juve] aware of the insecurity surrounding the club."

The scandal broke in May with the publication of intercepted telephone conversations between Luciano Moggi, the former Juventus general manager, and the Italian football authorities in which refereeing appointments were discussed, so everyone around the sport had been waiting for a verdict for several weeks. Moggi was banned from the sport for five years, and Franco Carraro, the former football federation president, for four and a half years

Moggi insisted there had been no wrongdoing. "No match was fixed, no referee was pressured," he was quoted as saying in the Italian media yesterday. "I'm not saddened for myself but for the teams involved and for their fans."

The predominant view in the Italian press was that the sentences were harsh. "Big blow" was the front-page headline in the sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport. Rome's sports newspaper, Corriere Dello Sport, claimed Juve, Lazio and Fiorentina were severely penalised, and it said: "Juve pays heavily as they are practically condemned to play two years in Serie B. Milan pays softly as they remain in Serie A, maintain their TV rights and can still point to the Scudetto next season."

The issue of broadcasting rights could prove troublesome for all four clubs. Television companies, with lots of money riding on teams now heading for Italy's soccer hinterlands, said they were waiting for the outcome of the appeals process to decide whether to renegotiate their broadcast rights.

The teams hope that the appeals process is quick enough to be completed by 25 July, the Uefa deadline for the Italian football federation to submit their list of teams for next season's Champions' League.

Milan's punishment could could possibly prove to be even less severe. Empoli were moved up to seventh place as a result of the verdict, but the club do not have a licence to play in European competitions. Milan believe that would allow them to play instead if Empoli cannot rectify that. Their optimism looks to be misplaced, as the Italian Federation commissioner, Guido Rossi, said yesterday: "The sporting justice has worked perfectly," he said. "Now we must rewrite the rules of football so these things never happen again."

The Punished: Glamour clubs, leading officials and top referee

JUVENTUS: Italy's champions and its most successful domestic team of all time relegated to Serie B and start next season with a penalty of 30 points. Juve also stripped of league titles won in the past two seasons.

MILAN: The six-times European champions, owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, remain in Serie A but are barred from European competition next season and must begin with 15-point penalty.

LAZIO: The former Italian champions based in Rome relegated to Serie B and must start next season with a seven-point deficit.

FIORENTINA: The former Italian champions located in Florence are relegated to Serie B and start next season with a 12-point loss.

LUCIANO MOGGI: Former Juve managing director, whose intercepted phone conversations formed the basis of the initial investigation, banned from game for five years and fined €50,000.

ANTONIO GIRAUDO: Former chief executive of Juve, who also features in the phone taps, banned for five years and fined €20,000.

ADRIANO GALLIANI: Vice-president of Milan, banned for a year.

FRANCO CARRARO: Former president of Football Federation, banned for four years, six months.

DIEGO DELLA VALLE: Owner of Fiorentina, banned for four years.

CLAUDIO LOTITO: Lazio president, banned for three years, six months.

MASSIMO DE SANTIS: Top referee, banned for four years, six months.

The Beneficiaries: Arrivederci Juve as all roads lead to Roma

ROMA: Italy's revised entry in the Champions' League will be Internazionale, Roma, Chievo and Palermo, while Livorno, Parma and Empoli will compete in the Uefa Cup, although the last of those must quickly acquire a Uefa licence to enable them to enter. Roberto Mancini's Inter, who hope to keep Marco Materazzi, were always going to be competing, but for the other six the verdict has been highly beneficial. Roma lost out to Fiorentina for the fourth and final Champions' League place but the fact they broke the Serie A record for successive wins shows their quality. Playmaker Francesco Totti will remain their totem.

CHIEVO: The only time Chievo dipped their toe in European waters came in the 2002-03 season, when they were knocked out of the Uefa Cup by Red Star Belgrade in the first round. The Gialloblu have not signed any leading players this summer. Franco Semioli, their right-winger, has been linked with Roma but he may now be persuaded to stay.

PALERMO: Like Chievo, they have only one season of Uefa Cup football to their name, last term, when they reached the last 16 before losing to Schalke. World Cup winner Fabio Grosso, the adventurous Italy left-back, has left for Inter.

PARMA: Of the three Uefa Cup entrants, Parma are the most famous. They now look to be getting their finances in order after well-documented difficulties.

The Fire Sale: The Real winner could be an old friend - Capello

JUVENTUS: Patrick Vieira (30)

France midfielder may soon be back in the Premiership after only one season with Juve. Could he be Old Trafford-bound?

Fabio Cannavaro (32)

Italy's World Cup captain, who should have won the Golden Ball award, has Chelsea among a host of suitors but Real Madrid, coached by ex-Juve coach Fabio Capello, are the likely destination.

Gianluigi Buffon (28)

Remains the most expensive - and arguably the best - goalkeeper in the world after Juve paid Parma a staggering £33m in 2001. Arsenal have been linked but he could end up at Internazionale.

Gianluca Zambrotta (29)

One of Italy's World Cup stars, he has become hot property, with Real the favourites; Capello is eager to play the full-back alongside Cannavaro in a new-look defence.

MILAN: Kaka (24)

Probably the only Brazilian player to emerge from the World Cup with his reputation enhanced, Kaka is a key target for Real.

Gennaro Gattuso (28)

Best defensive midfielder at the World Cup, Gattuso pledged his loyalty to Milan, but reality may bite - and Manchester United will be alerted for a Keane-like figure.

Alessandro Nesta (30)

Chelsea are circling for Nesta, who would help form an imposing partnership with John Terry.

FIORENTINA: Luca Toni (29)

Real have made a move but Internazionale can keep him in Italy.

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