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Domestic league scandal inspires Italy to victory

Associated Press

Berlin — Scandalous — and victorious.

Italy won its fourth World Cup on Sunday against the backdrop of the biggest scandal in Italian soccer history.

"If the scandal hadn't happened I think we wouldn't have won the World Cup," said Gennaro Gattuso, the midfield workhorse of Italy's team. "It has given us more strength."

Scandal and World Cup achievement are old acquaintances in Italy. The last time the country won the World Cup, in 1982, a betting scandal preceded the tournament.

Now, allegations of corruption and favouritism have piled up against Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio — the four Serie A clubs that 13 members of Italy's 23-man squad play for.

Prosecutors are seeking to demote Juventus — the "Old Lady" of Italian soccer — into Serie C and to strip it of the league titles won in the past two seasons. They also want Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio relegated to Serie B.

"I've tried to calm my teammates in difficult moments, and there have been many in these seven matches," captain Fabio Cannavaro said.

Prosecutors' requests for relegation were announced in Rome the same day Italy beat host Germany 2-0 in the semifinals.

A day after Italy beat Australia 1-0 on a final-play penalty by Francesco Totti in the second round, the club was hit by the news that a former teammate — Gianluca Pessotto — had fallen from a window at Juventus headquarters.

Pessotto is still fighting for his life at a Turin hospital.

Italy coach Marcello Lippi acknowledged that France played well.

"As soon as the pace slowed down their quality emerged," Lippi said. "But that's how life is. You have things taken away from you when you deserve them and you're given them when you don't."

Yet he said Italy merited its victory.

"It's a fair conclusion because there are some people who have suffered more than others," Lippi said. "Like Buffon, who was the best goalkeeper, and Cannavaro, the best defender."

Gianluigi Buffon had to defend himself against allegations of illegal betting before the World Cup.

In May, there were calls for Cannavaro to hand in his captain's armband after allegations that he purposely played poorly to hasten his transfer from Inter Milan to Juventus two years ago.

Cannavaro vehemently denied such behaviour.

The idea of amnesty for the teams involved in the current scandal was floated around Italy's World Cup camp, but none of the Azzurri said that would be fair.

"Whoever made mistakes has to pay," the players repeated one after another over the past month.

However, Italy's Justice Minister Clemente Mastella, who attended the final, said it wouldn't be "acceptable" for Buffon, Cannavaro and Alessandro Del Piero to play in Serie C.

"We hope justice will be fair," Mastella said.

The scandal has upset fans of the teams involved, while rival supporters have rejoiced.

Still, all Italians celebrated the penalty shootout win over France.

"The most important thing is that Italians have shared a sense of national pride," said Italian president Giorgio Napolitano, who also attended the final.

Italy's players were certainly not thinking about their uncertain future after Fabio Grosso converted the decisive penalty kick in the shootout.

The team sang, danced and screamed for nearly an hour after the game was over and defender Marco Materazzi placed a red, white and green top hat on the Jules Rimet Trophy before Cannavaro raised the cup.

Lippi smoked a cigar and was carried aloft by the team.

The first verdicts in the scandal could come as early as Monday — the same day Italy has scheduled its triumphant return from Germany.

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