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By ESPN Staff

Italian press unite to salute victorious Lippi

ROME, July 13 (Reuters) - Italy's press united on Thursday to salute departing World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi.

'Goodbye and thank you,' began an article on the front page of La Repubblica.

The 58-year-old former Juventus coach, who quit on Wednesday, saw himself as the pilot of a boat, said the paper, guiding the Azzurri away from the disappointment of early exits in the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004 to triumph in Berlin.

'The voyage was not from coast to coast, but from the rough waters to the smooth, from sea-sickness to pride, from disenchantment to true love.

'It was not an easy journey and the boat was not the fastest or the most beautiful, but it was solid. And once the port was reached, the pilot said goodbye.'

Other tributes focused on the reasons behind Lippi's departure.

In his resignation statement, Lippi said simply that he had 'come to the end of my role'.

Several papers, however, claimed he had grown tired of hearing his name mentioned in connection with the Serie A match-fixing scandal, whose verdicts are expected before the weekend.

Juventus - the club Lippi steered to five Serie A titles and the 1996 Champions League - are at the centre of the scandal and could be relegated to Italy's third division or lower.

In May, Lippi's son Davide was questioned by magistrates in Rome investigating sports agency GEA World for allegations of 'unfair competition with use of threats and violence'.

La Stampa called Lippi's resignation 'a premeditated farewell, born of the cheap shots that arrived from all directions.'

'He had not forgotten the days in which the scandal threatened to pull him into the swamp,' commented Corriere della Sera.

'Without those frictions, Lippi would have extended his contract and led the team into the qualifying campaign for the next European Championship,' it continued.

Corriere dello Sport said Lippi had now set himself beyond criticism.

His successor, it said, would be either ex-AC Milan and Italy midfielder Roberto Donadoni or former Milan coach Alberto Zaccheroni, with Donadoni the favourite despite a total of only eight months' coaching experience in Serie A.

La Gazzetta dello Sport also made Donadoni favourite to lead Italy into their first qualifier for the 2008 European Championship against Lithuania on September 2.