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OnScene at Huddersfield vs. Newcastle

Premier League

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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