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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Quartet begin their appeals

The four clubs hit by sanctions in the Italian match-fixing scandal began their appeals to overturn their punishments at the federal court in Rome on Saturday. Juventus, Fiorentina, Lazio and AC Milan were all found to have committed irregularities in relation to the assignment of referees and linesman during the 2004-05 campaign by a sports tribunal last week.

Juve were the most heavily hit as they were stripped of their last two titles, demoted to Serie B and handed a massive 30-point penalty. The solicitor defending the Turin-based club is hoping their appeal will force a change in the original punishment, giving Didier Deschamps' side a better chance of returning to the top flight after just one season. "There are lots of ways the penalty can be reduced," explained Cesare Zaccone, who believes overturning the decision to send them into Serie B may be a little too much to expect. We'll have to see, but let's not get carried away," he added.

The other three clubs are all aiming to be cleared of all charges by starting the next campaign in the top flight with no penalties. At present, Fiorentina and Lazio have been assigned to the Second Division with a deduction of 12 and seven points respectively. Milan kept their place in the top tier, but were kicked out of the Champions League by deducting 44 points of last seasons tally and given a 15-point setback for the new 2006-07 campaign.

Juventus have been at the centre of the scandal since it began in early May with the publication of intercepted telephone conversations between their then general manager Luciano Moggi and senior Italian Football Federation (FIGC) officials, discussing refereeing appointments during the 2004/05 season. The club has consistently argued that Moggi was acting independently and without their knowledge.

Prosecutor Stefano Palazzi, was in no mood to compromise, telling the appeals court that the tribunal had not been tough enough on Juventus and repeating his original call for the club to be sent down to Italy's third division. Moggi's behaviour, he said, constituted a "series of violations of the principle of fair conduct, which amount to sporting fraud".

Saturday's appeals kicked off at 9am local time at the Parco dei Principi Hotel in Rome, the same venue where the first grade sentences were delivered. It’s unclear when Piero Sandulli, the President of the appeals court, will hand out his court’s verdict - but they are expected on Monday, the day before the deadline that UEFA have set for the FIGC to be handed the names of Italy’s European competitors next season. Should the appeals process remain unfinished on Tuesday, the FIGC commissioner Guido Rossi has said that Italy's list to UEFA would reflect the verdicts of the sports tribunal, meaning Juventus, Milan and Fiorentina would lose their places in the Champions League to make way for Roma, Chievo and Palermo.

Although the appeal sentence should in theory be the definite verdict, there is the possibility that clubs and individuals could go and seek justice in the civil courts if still not satisfied with the outcome.

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