Giants of Italian football in the dock as match-fixing trial begins

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The Independent Football

The teams face possible relegation from the top division if they are found to have been directly responsibility for match-fixing.

Juventus could also be stripped of its last two league titles. The Turin club, which is quoted on Milan's stock exchange, faces the most serious charges. Luciano Moggi, the club's director general until the scandal forced his resignation last month, is accused of being the controller of a network of referees and association officials who helped Juventus obtain favourable results during the 2004-05 season, at the end of which Juventus won the league title.

Lazio and Fiorentina, which is owned by Diego Della Valle, owner of the Tod's shoe company, are accused of asking to have "friendly" referees appointed in crucial fixtures.

The position of AC Milan, which is owned by Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, appears the least serious. A minor club official is accused of trying to lean on linesmen to secure favourable results.

Other illustrious figures on trial include Franco Carraro, the former head of the football association; Innocenzo Mazzini, the former vice-president of the association; Tullio Lanese, former president of the national association of referees, and Paolo Bergamo and Pierluigi Pairetto, the two football association officials who were responsible for appointing match referees.

All have resigned from the association but, like all of those charged, they deny any wrongdoing. The hearing, which is being held in an improvised courtroom at Rome's Olympic Stadium, is likely to yield high drama next week when evidence starts to be heard.

Verdicts are due to be handed down on 9 July, the day of the World Cup final - a final which could yet involve the Italian national team. If Italy - who face the Ukraine in Hamburg tonight in one of the quarter-finals - were to go on to win the competition, the team could find itself in the bizarre situation of becoming world champions for the first time since 1982 on a day that Italian football is damned as endemically corrupt.

Despite the potential disaster which the trial represents for the sport, it has been overshadowed by the Ukraine match - and by the attempted suicide on Tuesday of the Juventus general manager, Gianluca Pessotto.

The former Juventus defender, who is reported to have been depressed, suffered multiple fractures and internal bleeding after jumping 15 metres from an attic window of the club's Turin headquarters. Doctors at the Molinette hospital in Turin said yesterday that it was too soon to say whether he would survive.

Italy's coach, Marcello Lippi, who coached Mr Pessotto during his playing days in the 1990s, described him as "an extraordinary lad". Mr Lippi added: "Out of respect to a really great person, it would be wrong to enter into any kind of speculation about why he might have done such a thing. All we can do is hope that he gets back to his wife and children as soon as possible."

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