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By ESPN Staff

Italian soccer engulfed by turmoil

ROME -- Italian soccer was engulfed by turmoil Saturday when a World Cup referee's accreditation was withdrawn after he was implicated in a game-fixing scandal, and star goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was questioned by prosecutors for suspected illegal betting.

The scandals were denounced by the Vatican as an "offense to sports" and an "offense to the joy of childhood."

Buffon's team, Juventus, said the goalie "presented himself of his own volition to magistrates," but didn't say what he told prosecutors. Italy's World Cup team will be announced Monday, and his status is in doubt.

Italian media quoted Buffon's lawyer as saying his client had gambled only on soccer games that didn't involve Italian teams, and he had stopped when that practice was banned last year.

The Italian soccer federation said it sent letters to FIFA and European soccer authorities to rescind the accreditations of referee Massimo De Santis and linesmen Alessandro Griselli and Marco Ivaldi, plus those for Paolo Bergamo and Pierluigi Pairetto, who were to assign game officials at the monthlong World Cup in Germany, which begins June 9. De Santis won't be replaced at the tournament.

"Instead of 23 referees, there will be 22 referees," FIFA spokesman Andreas Herren said.

Bergamo and Pairetto, who had also been vice chairman of UEFA's referees committee, assigned referees to Italian games last season.

Prosecutors in Naples, Rome, Parma and Turin are conducting investigations ranging from game-fixing to illegal betting.

Naples prosecutors said Friday they are investigating four Serie A clubs -- Juventus, Lazio, AC Milan and Fiorentina -- for alleged game-fixing which could implicate "top names."

"We're absolutely confident that we are in no way involved in this affair," industrialist Diego Della Valle, whose family owns Fiorentina, said at a news conference Saturday. "We're asking the prosecutors to do really thorough work and not to leave anything untouched, and to be as fast as possible."

AC Milan vice president Adriano Galliani, president of the Italian soccer league, also denied any involvement.

"What I care most about is reassuring our fans. It hurts to be involved, even if marginally or not at all," Galliani told the Italian news agency ANSA. "It's very sad, because we haven't done anything."

The Vatican, in its newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, described the scandals as "an offense to sports and to its values. The earthquake which is turning the world of soccer upside down is an offense to the joy of childhood."

Juventus seeks its second straight league title Sunday, the season's final round. The team's entire board resigned Thursday, including managing director Antonio Giraudo and general director Luciano Moggi, who are being investigated for allegedly trying to influence referee appointments.

Italian news organizations printed what they said were transcripts of wiretapped conversations in which Moggi brags that he once locked referees in a locker room for not assuring Juventus of victory.

"They would have to break down the door to get out,"Moggi was quoted as saying in one excerpt.

Prosecutors are investigating claims that Moggi pressured Italy coach Marcello Lippi to call up players represented by his son Alessandro's agent group. Lippi's son, Davide, also works for GEA World, which controls more than half of Italy's Serie A players.

"It's almost enough to make you ashamed of being Italian," said Bologna's former president, Giuseppe Gazzoni Frascara. "They controlled the Italian soccer season."

ANSA also reported Friday that Moggi and Giraudo also were being investigated for possible involvement in kidnapping after Reggina beat Juventus in November 2004.

The Italian soccer federation, whose president Franco Carraro resigned this week, is conducting its own investigation.