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By ESPN Staff
Jul 4, 2006

Italians hear relegation threat before semi

DUISBURG, Germany, July 4 (Reuters) - Hours before their World Cup semi-final against hosts Germany eight of Italy's likely starting line-up received the news their clubs could be relegated from top flight soccer.

On Tuesday, the prosecutor in Italy's match-fixing trial against four clubs - Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio - said he wanted all of them demoted from the top flight Serie A with Juventus relegated to the third tier Serie C or below.

While the prosecutor's request is by no means certain to be agreed to by a tribunal in Rome, his demands were much tougher than many observers had expected.

Juventus have eight players still at the World Cup - five of them in the Italy squad and three with the France team who face Portugal in the other semi-final on Wednesday.

They would have also learned on Tuesday that their manager Fabio Capello has resigned.

In all, there are 13 players in the Italy squad from the four clubs threatened with relegation and eight of them could expect to be in the starting line-up against Germany in Dortmund later on Tuesday.

The core of Italy's impressive defence, which has conceded just a single goal in five games at the World Cup is made up of Juventus players.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, full-back Gianluca Zambrotta and captain and central defender Fabio Cannavaro all play for the Turin team along with midfielder Mauro Camoranesi.

Key central midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso play for Milan while the most likely strike pairing against Germany would be Milan's Alberto Gilardino alongside Fiorentina's Luca Toni.

No players have been implicated in the scandal which is focused on the role of club officials and referees over the past two seasons.

The Azzurri's pre-World Cup training camp was dominated by discussion of the scandal but coach Marcello Lippi, who enjoyed two successful spells in charge of Juventus working alongside some of the officials who are being charged by the tribunal, has insisted the affair has not affected his team in any way.

'I said before the tournament that I didn't want this mess to become an excuse for a poor performance and now that things have gone well I don't want to hear it added to our pluses that we did well in the midst of this,' he said at the pre-match news conference on Monday.

France's players from Juventus are striker David Trezeguet, midfielder Patrick Vieira and defender Lilian Thuram.