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By ESPN Staff

Italian clubs hope World Cup win will bring leniency

ROME, July 11 (Reuters) - Italy's World Cup triumph fuelled demands on Tuesday for the four top clubs caught up in a match-fixing scandal to be treated leniently.

The verdict of a sports tribunal investigating the murky affair had been expected the day after the victorious Azzurri returned home from Germany to a heroes' welcome.

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) now says there is 'no certainty' about the timing of the verdicts that could lead to the relegation of Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio.

Local media speculated that the tribunal's rulings could come as late as Friday or Saturday, allowing Italians more time to revel in Sunday's penalty shootout win over France.

Justice Minister Clemente Mastella called for a judgment that 'takes into account the victory in Berlin'.

'Let's do what they did in ancient Rome: whoever has given us prestige and dignity should be treated differently, as one who has done something exemplary,' Mastella said.

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, owner of AC Milan, argued that relegation would hurt fans the most.

'We can't penalise the fans. The individuals should be punished, not the clubs,' he said.

Champions Juventus risk relegation to the third division if found guilty of trying to influence the appointment of match officials for games during the 2004-05 season.

'As a fan, I fear we risk the third division and I invoke the clemency of the tribunal,' said Piero Fassino, head of the Democrats of the Left, one of the ruling coalition parties.

AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio face possible relegation to the second tier Serie B while 26 individuals - including club and football federation officials, referees and linesmen - risk bans from their nation's favourite sport.

Italy's World Cup victory in 1982 was followed by an amnesty for those banned after a betting scandal two years earlier.

Despite the outburst of national pride over the World Cup win, the chances of an amnesty appear less certain this time.

FIGC commissioner Guido Rossi has consistently ruled out the possibility of an amnesty and many fans believe Italy's Cup win will not soften the sentences handed down by the tribunal.

'I don't think it will have much of an effect. I'm just hoping they don't come down too hard on Lazio,' said Manuel De Paolis, 19, a supporter of the Rome-based club.

'They don't seem to be as involved as the other teams. We'll just have to see.'