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Juventus shine, match-fixing clouds Italy

14 May 2012 01:47:05

Juventus shine, match-fixing clouds Italy

The 2011/12 Serie A season was notable for two prominent returns to the limelight, one a great deal more welcome than the other.

That they previously moved hand-in-hand was little more than a consequence but there was something felicitous about Juventus's title success in a year in which the scourge of match-fixing reared its ugly head once again.

The season began with a betting scandal that involved only a couple of top flight sides.

Chievo were fined and Atalanta, who had just been promoted, were hit with a six-point penalty and had two of their players banned for several years for their role.

The Calcioscommesse affair mostly affected the second division and the lower leagues but, regardless, it was an unwelcome reminder of the problems Italian football faces, just five years after Calciopoli.

Although the higher reaches of Italian football emerged unscathed, the affair dragged on all season as first the Football Federation (Figc) launched an investigation and then so too, one after another, did several cities.

It meant that the scandal never fully went to bed and even now, at the end of the season, it continues to rumble on.

With such murkiness lingering in the air, one would perhaps have expected Juve to keep a low profile, off the field at least, given they were punished for their role in Calciopoli, losing two league titles and being relegated to Serie B.

But this was a year in which Juve refused to move out of the headlines.

They started the year well on the pitch and soon it became clear they were capable of fighting for the scudetto.

After two seventh-placed finishes in a row, few expected them to mount a title challenge, some even expecting them to be out of the running for a Champions League finish, particularly given Italy had just lost a fourth team in Europe's premier club competition.

But Juve kept up with early front-runners Udinese and Lazio and soon moved clear.

Champions AC Milan got off to a slow start but by the turn of the year they were breathing down Juve's necks and soon overtook them.

It was very different at Inter Milan, though, with the 2010 European champions getting off to an abysmal start, which cost new coach Gian Piero Gasperini his job after just five official games.

Sackings were a sorry feature of this season and incredibly, Gasperini was far from the first as Cagliari and Palermo fired Roberto Donadoni and Stefano Pioli respectively before the league season even began.

By the end of the season the number of coaching changes had reached 19.

Inter never fully recovered from their disastrous opening and although they would fight for a Champions League place, they had to settle for a spot in Europe's secondary competition.

Up front Milan came as close as anyone to ending Juve's unbeaten run as they led 1-0 in their league fixture at the San Siro until eight minutes from time, in a controversial match in which the champions wrongly had a goal ruled out when the ball clearly crossed the line.

That would take on added significance once Juve pulled back ahead of Milan nine games from the end.

Undefeated Juve claimed the title with a game to spare as Inter produced a rare moment of joy for their fans by thumping Milan 4-2 in their city derby.

In Europe it was a season of much promise but lots of disappointment.

Udinese failed to make the Champions League group stages and although the other three all qualified from their groups, Inter crashed out to Marseille and Napoli lost to Chelsea.

Milan stunned Arsenal to reach the quarter-finals but could do nothing against Barcelona.

At the bottom Novara made a quick return to Serie B and were joined by Cesena and Lecce, with Atalanta never facing trouble after a great start soon wiped out their penalty.

And Udinese stunned everyone by snatching third spot and a second successive Champions League qualification.


AFP

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