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Jul 5, 2006

Italy's press head over heels in love with Azzurri

ROME, July 5 (Reuters) - Italy's sports press hailed its players as heroes after they beat Germany 2-0 to reach the World Cup final but the good news from Berlin had to share the front pages with stories of the soccer scandal sweeping the country.

'We love you,' ran the headline on the front of Corriere dello Sport, before predicting the performance would 'pass into legend'.

Having recalled Italy's famous 4-3 win over Germany in the semi-finals of the 1970 World Cup, the paper said: 'This time we did even more.

'We knocked them out in their own backyard, with 60,000 fans shouting for them, with Ballack provoking us, in a stadium where Germany had never lost before.'

Tuttosport called the team 'giants', its front page dominated by a picture of defender Fabio Grosso and striker Alessandro Del Piero, the two players whose extra time goals gave Italy a last-gasp victory.

'Two great goals and Italy is in the final,' read the headline in Corriere della Sera.

'Italy is stronger than everyone else. We're in,' said Rome's Messaggero, which, like most newspapers, ran pictures of Italy players crying with joy at the end of the match.

'Fantastic last minute - Italy flies,' said L'Unita, the newspaper of the Democrats of the Left, the newspaper of the largest party in governing coalition.

La Stampa of Turin said the team deserved to win.

'They gave it their all. So, in the end, they got it all - the final, the glory, the applause of the world,' the paper said.

CENTRAL FIGURE

The central figure in the team's success, however, argued the paper, was coach Marcello Lippi.

'It was Lippi's victory, because he got his tactics right,' it said, singling out his decision to send on Del Piero and Iaquinta as substitutes to give Italy an attacking formation included four strikers.

Italy's victory provided a happy ending to a day that had been overshadowed by events at the match-fixing trial in Rome's Olympic Stadium.

Nearly every national newspaper ran banner headlines on the Berlin victory, but just under them were sombre stories about the trial.

'Historic Italy - We are in the final,' ran the headline in Rome's La Repubblica newspaper.

Just below it was another one which spoke of the 'sting' of the soccer scandal.

In the morning, Italian Football Federation prosecutor Stefano Palazzi requested that champions Juventus should be sent down to Italy's third division, and that AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio all be relegated to Serie B.

The joy of reaching the World Cup final was 'stronger than the scandal' said La Gazzetta dello Sport.

'As always, Italy beats Germany and this new, merited 2-0 win seized in extra time, is a double boost,' continued the paper.

'It sends us through to the final in Berlin, and closes in a mood of euphoria a day which started with the request for relegations.'