Juventus hopeful as match-fixing appeals start

July 22, 2006

ROME, July 22 (Reuters) - The lawyer representing Juventus at the appeals trial in Italy's match-fixing scandal said on Saturday he was hopeful that the sentence handed down last week by a sports tribunal would be reduced.

Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio - all from Italy's top Serie A division - were found guilty of conspiring with referees and linesmen to rig games during the 2004/05 season.

Juventus were stripped of their last two Serie A titles and ordered to start next season in the second division Serie B on minus 30 points.

'I believe there are ample margins for the points penalty to be reduced,' said Cesare Zaccone shortly before the appeals trial opened in a conference room at a Rome hotel.

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.

Asked whether he believed Juventus stood a chance of being reinstated in Serie A, Zaccone seemed less optimistic.

'Let's see. But let's not get our hopes up,' he said.

FIGC prosecutor Stefano Palazzi, however, 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'.

Like Juventus, the other three clubs involved have also denied any wrongdoing and are appealing against what they say are the unjust sentences of the tribunal.

Fiorentina and Lazio were sent down to Serie B with points penalties.

Milan avoided relegation, but were thrown out of next season's Champions League and ordered to start their next Serie A campaign on minus 15 points.

Fiorentina owner Diego Della Valle said that he had come to 'put things straight.'

'We only hope these judges manage to see things clearly because we've done nothing wrong,' he said.

Lazio lawyer Vittorio Siniscalchi attacked the tribunal's decision to admit the telephone intercepts as evidence, calling them 'invasive' and 'unreliable'.

The chances of the appeals court rejecting the intercepts are remote, but Lazio were thrown a possible lifeline when the court's president, Piero Sandulli, upheld a request to allow new evidence from referee Daniele Tombolini.

Tombolini officiated in Lazio's 0-0 draw with Brescia in February 2005 - the match on which the tribunal based their guilty verdict.

The appeals court is aiming to deliver its verdicts before the July 25 deadline set by UEFA for the FIGC to submit its list of teams for next season's Champions League and UEFA Cup competitions.

Should the appeals process remain unfinished on July 25, the FIGC commissioner Guido Rossi has said that Italy's list to UEFA would reflect the verdicts of the sports tribunal.

In that case, Juventus, Milan and Fiorentina would lose their places in the Champions League to make way for AS Roma, Chievo Verona and Palermo.