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By ESPN Staff

Fiorentina claim to be victims in Serie A scandal

ROME, July 5 (Reuters) - Italy's match-fixing trial resumed on Wednesday with Fiorentina owner Diego Della Valle claiming his club were victims of a system rather than part of it.

Champions Juventus are battling to avoid relegation to the third division at Italy's biggest sporting trial, while three other clubs - AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio - are fighting to stay in the top Serie A.

All are charged with sporting fraud.

The tribunal returned to work the morning after Italy's national team, packed with Juventus and AC Milan players, dramatically reached the World Cup final by defeating hosts Germany in Dortmund.

'I think we all experienced a lot of joy last night, let's hope it continues,' tribunal president Cesare Ruperto said as he opened proceedings.

'Here, we will continue to try to do our job as well as we can. That way it will be a victory for everyone.'

Della Valle, one of 26 officials also facing charges in Rome's Olympic Stadium, said Fiorentina had been mistreated by referees.

'We thought that maybe the referees' errors were down to psychological pressures. We didn't know there was a system,' he said. 'Fiorentina were victims of this system.'

Della Valle, who bought Fiorentina in August 2002 when it was languishing in Italy's fourth division after going bankrupt, faces a charge of sporting fraud for conspiring with FIGC officials to rig matches.

FIGC prosecutor Stefano Palazzi has asked the tribunal to ban Della Valle from football for five years. All four clubs and 26 officials facing charges deny any wrongdoing.


The charge against Della Valle revolves around a meeting he had with former FIGC official Paolo Bergamo, who conducted the draw that assigned referees to Serie A matches during the 2004-05 season - when the club narrowly avoided relegation.

'When we said we were worried about hostile referees, Bergamo told us that mistakes happened, and that he could put us into the part of the draw that got the best referees to avoid further mistakes,' Della Valle said.

Former FIGC president Franco Carraro and Lazio president Claudio Lotito also spoke in defence of themselves.

Palazzi is expected to respond to the defendants' speeches later on Wednesday. Lawyers representing the accused will then launch their defences.

The scandal began in early May with the publication of intercepted telephone conversations between former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi and senior FIGC officials, discussing refereeing appointments during the 2004-05 season.

Palazzi said Juventus should be relegated 'below Serie B'.

The tribunal has said it aims to deliver its verdicts on July 10, the day after the World Cup final in Berlin.

Those found guilty can appeal but the appeals process must be finished by July 27 - the deadline set by European soccer's ruling body for the FIGC to submit the list of teams for next season's Champions League and UEFA Cup competition.