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Around the World

Four Italian clubs have sanctions eased in fixing scandal.

By Chris Courtney
SoccerTimes

(Tuesday, July 25, 2006) -- The four clubs sanctioned in Italy's match-fixing scandal had their penalties lessened today on appeal, but the drama may still be far from over.

Meanwhile, Europe's governing body UEFA granted Italy a one-day extension until tomorrow to selct which of its teams will compete in the lucrative Champions League.

Tonight, the special sports court reversed its decision to relegate both Fiorentina and Lazio to Serie B after the clubs successfully convinced it that there was no evidence that they ever made any direct contact with a referee or those who select them for matches. While both will stay in the Serie A, Lazio will start with an 11-point deduction, while Fiorentina will start with a 19 point deficit, meaning both need a strong seasons to remain in the Italian top flight. Both clubs are surely breathing a sigh of relief since they will be able to keep their players and Serie A television revenue.

Juventus, which has already started selling its players, remains relegated to Serie B, but had its 30-point deduction there lowered to 17 points, making it possible that the chances are much better that the "Old Lady" could earn promotion back to Serie A for the 2007-08 season.

Juve will now need to do so without the services of Real Madrid-bound defender Fabio Cannavaro (for some the real Golden Boot winner at the 2006 World Cup). It will also be without the services of defenders Lillian Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta, both transferring to defending Spanish and Champions League titlist FC Barcelona. Juventus midfielder Patrick Viera has also been targeted by Inter Milan, Barcelona. and Manchester United.

A number of Juventus players, including midfielder Mauro German Camorenesi, have pledged to stay with the club. Those who stay on will play three homes matches to an empty stadium -- another facet of Juventus' penalty for the club management's alleged involvement in manipulating the selection of match referees and then influencing their decisions in favor of Juventus.

AC Milan was due to remain in Serie A, but nonetheless saw its fortunes change dramatically in the appeal verdict since it will now be able to compete in the Champions League, though it must enter through the playoff round, from which it should pass onto the group stages. This means that the club will still have a shot at around $60 million revenue from Champions League participation.

Milan will start its Serie A season with minus-eight points.

Even the results of this appeal verdict does not mean this saga has ended. Having heard the verdict reinstating AC Milan's place in the Champion's League, Fiorentina is threatening to take its case into the normal Italian court system, an action which could delay the start of the Serie season.

Prior to tonight's verdict, Fiorentina's fans had threatened to protest their relegation by blocking the rail lines in an out of their crossroads city of Florence (and crippling Italian rail traffic nationwide). Juventus has also indicated that it is considering taking their case to a normal civil court as well.


Browns owner reportedly checks out Aston Villa

CLEVELAND -- Randy Lerner, the owner of the National Football League's Cleveland Browns, is looking into investments in the United Kingdom that could include the purchase of the English Premier League's Aston Villa.

Bill Bonsiewicz, the Browns vice president of communications and public relations, did not confirm such reports, which came from the British media, but told Associated Press, Lerner "is exploring business options, including in the United Kingdom, where he's been involved in the business community since 1993. He's always maintained other businesses outside the Browns."

Lerner, a billionaire and former chairman of MNBA, the credit card giant, took over ownership of the Browns after his father Al died in 2002.

Should he acquire Aston Villa, Lerner would become the second NFL owner to own a team in the English Premier League. Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner took over control of Manchester United in 2005.

Chris Courtney is SoccerTimes European correspondent and lives in Brussels.

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