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By ESPN Staff

Italy's match-fixing trial resumes in Rome

ROME, July 3 (Reuters) - Italy's biggest soccer trial resumed on Monday, a day before the country's World Cup semi-final with hosts Germany, with four top clubs and 26 officials facing match-fixing charges.

Champions Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio, who together supply 13 of Italy's 23-man World Cup squad, risk being forced out of Serie A and European competition if found guilty of conspiring with referees to rig matches.

Tribunal President Cesare Ruperto, a retired judge, opened proceedings in a low ceilinged room in Rome's Olympic Stadium but defence lawyers immediately challenged the court's right to try their clients.

Ruperto adjourned the trial after about three hours to consider the objections. It was scheduled to resume at 1400 GMT.

Juventus are widely considered to be at the centre of the scandal, which erupted in May when phone taps showed former general manager Luciano Moggi discussing refereeing appointments with football federation (FIGC) officials.

The defendants, including top referees, Fiorentina owner Diego Della Valle and AC Milan Vice-President Adriano Galliani, sat at long tables facing the judges in a scene resembling a school classroom.

The atmosphere was more low-key after the hype surrounding the trial's opening day last Thursday, when Ruperto adjourned proceedings to allow five Serie B teams hoping to be promoted time to prepare their cases.

Moggi was absent. His lawyer Paolo Trofino, who was among the first to speak, said the sports tribunal had no right to try Moggi because, having quit the world of soccer in the wake of the scandal, he was no longer a member of the FIGC.

Thousands of Juve supporters marched through Turin's streets on Saturday as a sign of continued support for the club.

Lazio's lawyer, Ugo Longo, was among several who argued that the case must be thrown out because it was based on phone taps which the prosecution had no right to use in the trial.

'I'm requesting that the tribunal refuses to consider all telephone intercepts on the basis of the law that states that intercepts can only be used as part of the investigation in which they were obtained,' he said.

The intercepts were originally obtained by criminal prosecutors in Turin, who passed them on to the FIGC only after deciding they didn't have enough evidence to bring charges.

The morning session closed with FIGC prosecutor Stefano Palazzi urging the tribunal to reject all the objections.

Italy's World Cup players say they are focused on the tournament rather than the fate of their clubs.

AC Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso on Sunday rejected the suggestion that an amnesty should be passed if Italy win. 'I hope we win the World Cup but those in the wrong have to pay,' he said.

All the accused have denied the charges of unfair conduct and sporting fraud, but if found guilty the clubs face penalties ranging from deducted points to relegation and being stripped of their titles. Individuals face bans.

The tribunal was originally expected to deliver its verdicts on July 10, the day after the World Cup final in Berlin, but some commentators say that date is already looking ambitious.

Those found guilty can appeal, but the whole process must be wrapped up by July 27 - the deadline set by UEFA for the Italian Football Federation to submit the list of teams to compete in next season's Champions League and UEFA Cup competitions.