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Prandelli offers backing to Conte

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has defended Juventus boss Antonio Conte, who was banned for ten months in the match-fixing scandal that swept the domestic game.

Conte had his ten-month ban upheld by an Italian football tribunal last month. He was accused of failing to report match-fixing in games against Novara and Albinoleffe during his time as coach of Siena.

Rejecting Conte's appeal, the tribunal ruled that the ban on the coach - who steered an undefeated Juve to the title last season - would stand.

Although the tribunal modified the original verdict, acquitting him of wrongdoing in the game against Novara, it upheld the sentence. He is expected to lodge a second appeal with the Italian Olympic committee's court of arbitration for sport, which is likely to be heard in September.

Prandelli said: "I have not changed my mind on the betting scandal. Conte received a ten-month ban but what did you want, life in prison?

"Anyone who made a mistake has to pay, but there is a big difference between failing to report something and actual sporting fraud. In a career spanning 20 years, any of us could be dragged into it - even if only by gossip and hearsay."

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said he and his Juventus team-mates were missing Conte and that they need to overcome his absence to do well in the Champions League.

He told Sky Italia: "Our self-awareness and style of play are the real triumphs of Conte, but we miss his presence in the dugout. A coach like him influences in the same way in the changing room and from the bench during the game.

"Conte created a masterpiece last year with the victories and providing the winning mentality, but now I see him as a caged lion.

"Juve must be ready for the Champions League - that is our priority. We have been waiting for it for three years. It was our goal last season and, now that we've reached it, it's important to be competitive. I think that we are on a par with everyone in Europe."

The 34-year-old 'keeper praised striker Sebastian Giovinco, who has returned to Juventus after two seasons at Parma.

The forward put in a stellar performance in last weekend's victory over Udinese, and Buffon said: "Giovinco did a bit of soul-searching. He wanted to show that he has matured and to show everyone that he's an international-standard player who is capable of producing decisive moments in important games."

Buffon, now one of the older members of a young and inexperienced Juventus squad, stressed that he was not considering retirement, adding: "I am fit, I am determined and I really want to win. I am in good shape for my age, and I am not thinking about what I will do afterwards."


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