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Jul 15, 2006

Scandal verdict to kick-start transfer merry-go-round

MILAN, July 15 (Reuters) - The demotion of Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina to Serie B following a ruling by a sports tribunal looking into match-fixing allegations is certain to prompt a transfer merry-go-round across Europe.

Juventus had eight players involved in this month's World Cup final and few, if any, will be expected to stay with the Turin club and start next season in Serie B.

The imposition of a 30-point penalty on Juventus for next season means they are almost certain to have to pass at least two seasons in the second tier - a highly unattractive prospect for their top international players.

Three of Italy's hugely impressive World Cup winning defence will likely be looking for new clubs now and there will be no shortage of suitors for Azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and attacking full-back Gianluca Zambrotta.

Fabio Capello, the coach who guided Juventus to the last two Serie A titles, which they were stripped of on Friday, has already jumped ship, taking over last week at Spanish club Real Madrid and it would be no surprise if he were to look to Juve for defensive reinforcements.

Argentine born winger Mauro Camoranesi, who had his ponytail cut as Italy celebrated their World Cup final triumph over France in Berlin on Sunday , is another player who will not find it hard to get a new contract in the top flight in Italy or elsewhere.

If there is a top player at Juventus who might stay loyal it is forward Alessandro Del Piero who is an idol of the fans and might also find it tough to find a big name club willing to pay out a large fee for a 31-year-old.

Juve's French trio of defender Lilian Thuram, midfielder Patrick Vieira and striker David Trezeguet will also be attractive targets for the continent's leading clubs and newspapers have already begun speculating on their likely destinations.

Fiorentina striker Luca Toni has already been heavily linked with a move to Inter Milan who have not been involved in the scandal in any way.

Fiorentina's Czech defender Tomas Ujfalusi and Bulgarian striker Valeri Bojinov would also be attractive targets for clubs looking to take advantage of the club's difficulties.

Lazio's more modest squad has more chance of remaining intact but Italy World Cup squad member Massimo Oddo is unlikely to be relishing the prospect of Serie B football.

There is now a question mark over AC Milan's highly-paid collection of internationals. Even though Milan avoided relegation, a 44-point penalty imposed on last season's standings means they will miss out on Champions League football.

Club owner Silvio Berlusconi has the resources to survive a season without the income from Europe's premier club competition but an absence from Europe might unsettle some of the club's top performers such as Brazilian Kaka who has been a reported target for Real Madrid.