Prosecutor unhappy

Italian football chiefs must be tearing their hair out right now. No sooner had they dispensed ‘justice’ in the Calcioscommesse match-fixing scandal, than the chief prosecutor in the case appeals against the decision of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) to acquit seven players.

Italy internationals Leonardo Bonucci and Simone Pepe were among those cleared of any involvement, along with Salvatore Masiello, Daniel Padelli, Giuseppe Vives, Nicola Belmonte and Montreal Impact striker Marco Di Vaio.

Testimony by former Bari defender Andrea Masiello was dismissed on the grounds that it was too inconsistent (loose translation: it didn’t look good for the current Italian internationals on trial), meaning the charges against the Juventus pair were dropped. Prosecutor Stefano Palazzi believes Masiello’s evidence should have been used, and has filed a formal appeal with the Federal Court of Justice.

So far, the principal big-name casualty of the affair has been Juventus coach Antonio Conte, who last week was banned for 10 months as a result of his part in the scandal; although not involved in the match-fixing, Conte was found guilty of not reporting the corruption. Juventus have vowed to stand by their man and have already announced their intention to appeal against the sanction.

Let he who is without sin…

Meanwhile, Juventus director general Beppe Marotta has labelled Roma coach Zdenek Zeman’s criticism of Conte as inappropriate.

Although Conte is technically suspended, the ban only applies to the dugout and dressing room on match days. Such a punishment was deemed lenient by Zeman, and when you consider that the ban will not affect Conte’s work on the training ground, it’s hard to disagree.

“A suspended player can train, but I think a coach with a long ban shouldn’t be able to train his team,” Zeman said.

“I haven’t read the full verdicts of the betting trial, but if people want to weaken this phenomenon then they have to be more decisive.”

Speaking to Sky Sport 24, Marotta sought to defend his manager.

“As a football man and the general manager of Juventus, I feel Zeman’s comments are inappropriate. He was referring to Conte even though he didn’t mention him specifically. It was either a joke, and therefore a worthless comment, or an intentional jibe,” he said.

“He [Zeman] admitted that he hadn’t read the documentation himself and that he couldn’t explain this first-instance ruling given to a fellow coach from the same association, who has been sentenced for failure to report rather than for any violation. And it has come about based on the word of a single footballer, which has not been confirmed by 24 other people, who in fact say the exact opposite.”

Marotta, who was clearly riled by Zeman’s comments, proceeded to cast aspersions on the previous conduct of the Czech-born coach.

“I have many memories of Zeman, but one which sticks very clearly in my mind is from May 2005 when he was the Lecce manager. In a game between Lecce and Parma that ended 3-3, he left the dugout ten minutes before the final whistle, turned away from the pitch and watched the stands until the game had finished, smoking a cigarette. I didn’t understand it then and I still don’t understand it now. I’d like him to provide us with an answer to that rather than getting involved in matters that don’t concern him.”

Whatever can he mean? It is worth noting, though, that Italian football is one of the few places where it is impossible to find someone casting stones who is also without sin.

Scapegoat

We win together, we lose together, is an admirable motto, extolling the virtues of teamwork. Sadly, in the wake of Brazil’s unexpected Olympic final defeat to Mexico, that message has been quickly forgotten.

Juan Jesus was involved in an -on-the-pitch row with team0mate Rafael, and the Manchester United player has become the officially anointed scapegoat for the loss, after he gifted possession away in the lead up to the opening goal. Even the Brazil Football Confederation wasted little time pointing the finger at the errant defender.

“Rafael knows he made a mistake that led to the first Mexican goal in the Olympic football final in the London 2012 Games,” read the Confederation’s website.

“There’s no denying it. Nevertheless, with his skill and determination, the young No.2 can’t be tainted by the error. Mistakes are for correcting. Rafael knows that.

“Later, when things have calmed down, he will surely look at the move and learn from it. At the end of the day, as the saying goes, to err is human and we learn from our mistakes.”

In fact, the saying goes: “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”

Precious little sign of forgiveness emanating from Brazil at the moment though.

As for coach Mano Menezes, he clings on to his job, but after being told beforehand that the mimimum requirement from London was gold, his days in charge surely are numbered.

Quote of the day

“Like me or not, I am the only one who won the world’s three most important leagues. So, maybe instead of the ‘Special One’, people should start calling me the ‘Only One’.

Jose Mourinho tells Portuguese TV station SIC, that he is no longer merely special, he is unique. He is also beyond parody.

Losing support

Milan’s season ticket sales have plummeted to an all-new low after the sales of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva.

Some fans started a class action lawsuit against the club to have season tickets refunded after the two big-name players were sold to PSG.

The Rossoneri offered to refund the cost and so far only a handful of supporters have taken that step.

Nonetheless, the Diavolo have sold only 19,283 season tickets to date. According to Tuttosport, this could well be a new record for the Silvio Berlusconi era.

Only twice before has that figure gone below 30,000 – when Kaka joined Real Madrid in 2009-10 for 27,865 tickets and a year later 28,754. Obviously, the state of the Italian economy doesn’t help, but that is a significant drop off on last season and reflects a sense of growing disillusionment within the club’s hardcore support.

Fixture congestion

Francesco Guidolin has express his anger at the scheduling of Udinese’s Champions League play-off against Sporting Braga.

Udinese face the Portuguese side on August 21 and play the second leg a week later on August 28.

“We will once again be facing three games in six days, because Serie A starts on August 25,” Guidolin told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“It’s absurd and damages the sport. They organise these things to make the television companies happy, but it is not good for football.

“On top of all that, there is an international friendly scheduled for August 15. In a week like that they are taking away nine of my best players and I need to practice certain things with the whole squad.”

Player of the season

Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been shortlisted for the 2011-12 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award.

Messi – won the award 12 months ago – faces competition from Real Madrid and his Barca team-mate Iniesta, in a poll among 53 sports journalists representing each of the UEFA member associations.

The top three will now go into a deciding vote in Monaco during the Champions League group stage draw on 30 August.

In Monaco the journalists will vote live, for their best player from the shortlist.

Positions four to ten have already been decided after each journalist provided a list of their top five players, with the first receiving five points, the second four points and so on:

4 Andrea Pirlo (ITA) – Juventus (90 points)
5 Xavi Hernández (ESP) – FC Barcelona (57)
6 Iker Casillas (ESP) – Real Madrid CF (53)
7 Didier Drogba (CIV) – Chelsea FC* (31)
8= Petr Čech (CZE) – Chelsea FC (14)
8= Falcao (COL) – Club Atlético de Madrid (14)
10 Mesut Özil (GER) – Real Madrid CF (10)

Animal rights

Werder Bremen have invited fans opposed to its new shirt sponsor for talks in a bid to settle a row that has resulted in a number of supporters terminating their membership of the Bundesliga club.

Bremen officially presented poultry meat producer Wiesenhof as its new sponsor on Monday, two days after animal activists and fans protested against the deal worth a reported $10 million over two seasons.

More than 21,000 Werder fans have joined an online petition against Wiesenhof, which has been accused by animal rights group PETA and others of animal cruelty, poor hygiene and bad practices.

It is not the first time the club have been involved in such a sponsorship row. Previous shirt sponsors Citibank and economy clothing label Kik were also greeted with dismay by fans. I think it’s fair to say that Werder fans are not that easy to please.

Low defends players

Also in Germany, national coach Joachim Low says the country’s players should not be judged on whether or not they sing the national anthem before matches.

Some of the less enlightened members of the German media have attempted to attribute Germany’s failure to win Euro 2012, to a less than wholehearted rendition of the national anthem by several members of the squad.

Low, clearly one of the more clued-up members of the coaching fraternity, was having none of it though.

“I think it is awkward to make the accusation that, if the players do not sing the national anthem, they are not good Germans,” he told reporters.

“It’s good to sing the anthem but it doesn’t prove that the player has quality and (if he doesn’t) it’s certainly not a sign that he is not ready to give everything.

“We are all proud of the great things this team does and has done for integration in Germany.”

Pouring oil on troubled waters

South Korean football officials have sought to play down a potential political row with Japan after a Korean player displayed a political message at the London Olympics.

Park Jong-woo held up a sign referring to a territorial dispute between the countries after South Korea had beaten Japan 2-0 in last Friday’s bronze medal match.

A statement from the KFA called Park’s headline-grabbing stunt “an impulsive incident that had no political intention or premeditation.”

The placard – which read “Dokdo is ours” – prompted fresh controversy after a surprise visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to the islands, known in Japan as Takeshima, last week.

Clearly, the sign had political connotations and was obviously premeditated (how could it not be), but as our friends from Brazil noted earlier: ” To err is human …”

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