Pressure grows on Italy coach Lippi to resign
MILAN, May 21 (Reuters) - Calls for Italy coach Marcello Lippi to resign over a football scandal clouded the national team's World Cup preparations on Sunday, three weeks before they start their campaign in Germany.
Magistrates summoned Lippi on Friday as a witness in the match-fixing scandal and he is expected to be questioned more extensively next week.
Lippi denied last week that former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi, who is at the centre of match-fixing allegations, forced him to select certain players for the national side for his personal profit from transfer deals.
Lippi's son Davide is also an agent at the sports transfer agency being probed by authorities.
Italian newspapers reported pressure was rising on Lippi to step down, a move that would seriously disrupt the Italy side at the World Cup starting on June 9. Italy face Ghana, the U.S. and the Czech Republic in group games in Germany.
'A movement from the top, which may be political, has decided to push for Lippi to end up in the list of those who, for various reasons, have decided to quit,' leading daily La Repubblica wrote on Sunday.
Influential sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport also suggested it might be time for Lippi to step aside.
'Lippi at the World Cup is a risk,' it said in a front page editorial.
The paper also published an Ipsos poll showing 30 percent of those interviewed said it would take at least three years for Italian football to recover from the accusations of false accounting, match-fixing and illegal gambling rocking the sport.
Most of those interviewed also called for Juventus and other Serie A clubs accused in the scandal to be stripped of any championship titles won during the period under investigation.
Juventus's board and several football officials, who appointed Lippi, have resigned over the scandal, which Prime Minister Romano Prodi has called a symbol of a 'crisis of ethics' in Italy.
Italy's football association will appoint new internal investigators in the next few days, after chief investigator Italo Pappa quit on Saturday due to the widening probe.
Magistrate Luca Palamara said it would be for football officials, not the law, to decide on Lippi's future.
'Lippi at the World Cup? It's not the problem of the magistrates who are in charge of the investigations into the soccer scandal,' Palamara was quoted as saying.
Palamara is one of the investigators looking into transfer deals at GEA World, a sports agency managing nearly 200 players whose dealings lie at the centre of the investigations. Lippi's son Davide is an agent at GEA. Lippi, when he became Italy coach two years ago, said there was no conflict of interest.
The probe was triggered by the publication of taped telephone calls between Moggi and various soccer officials in which they appeared to be fixing matches and even bragged how they had locked an uncooperative referee in a changing room.
Juventus shares have halved in value since the probe began.
The upheaval in the football world has had a knock-on effect on the sale of sports rights and Italy's communications ministry has called a meeting for next week to discuss the impact of the scandal on television networks.
Italy's top networks RAI, Mediaset and Rupert Murdoch's Sky Italia had paid millions for the Serie A broadcast rights. With the possibility that top teams Juventus, Fiorentina and Lazio could be kicked from Serie A to Serie B, networks want to renegotiate those deals.