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Italian match-fixing punishments looking more and more soft as season progresses

Italian match-fixing punishments looking more and more soft as season progresses

With Juve's tour of some of the smaller stadiums in Italy nearly complete, it's becoming increasingly clear that the punishments meted out for the country's match-fixing scandal were bacically meaningless.
Juventus did have to forfeit the last two of its record 29 Serie A titles and play this season in the second division for its part in a scheme to appoint favorable referees to its games. And all five teams involved in the scandal had to start the season with negative points.
But the sanctions weren't severe enough to inflict much harm on any of them.
Initially, the authorities reacted to the scandal with the best intentions, but constant reassessments and reductions left only Juventus relegated to the Serie B, where it has been on a sort of dual welcome-farewell tour. It has been playing in smaller Italian cities like Trieste and Rimini where many of the local team's supporters are Juventus fans anyway.
Two other teams _ Fiorentina and Lazio _ were also supposed to play in the second division this season, but they were saved by the politicking that later lessened the penalties for everyone involved.
It would have meant more if they were also dropped because at least the three demoted teams would have been able to fight among themselves for the Serie B title _ and assured promotion.
Instead, Juventus is playing to sellout crowds all over the country with nary an opponent that would be capable of seriously challenging for a Serie A title.
That's not really punishment. That's more like a season-long break from the grind of playing against the best teams in the league week after week.
Juventus did lose Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta and Lilian Thuram to the Spanish league, but the "Old Lady" was lucky to keep Italy internationals Gianluigi Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero, as well as former Czech Republic striker Pavel Nedved.
And even without the standout defensive unit that led it to the top of the standings at the end of the last two seasons, Juventus has been good enough this season to overcome its nine-point penalty and take over first place in the Serie B.
If the penalty had remained at the original 30 points, however, things would be much more interesting. Instead of leading the league by six points with about two months to go, Juventus would be trailing Genoa by 15 and well out of the promotion race.
The four teams that stayed in the Serie A have also essentially overcome their point deductions _ which is to say that they are all out of the relegation zone. None are close to Inter Milan, however, which has a massive 20-point lead and is looking forward to winning the title this year on its own.
"This is a team that hasn't celebrated a scudetto on the field in a long time, and now we're close," Inter striker Hernan Crespo said after the team beat Parma 2-0 Sunday. "We want to win in style."
It depends on what your definition of style is, though. Winning the title in a league deprived of its best team shouldn't exactly qualify.
But even with city rival Inter destined to win the title this season, AC Milan can't be all that upset.
Originally kicked out of the Champions League, the six-time European champions were allowed to compete in the lucrative competition and have now reached the quarterfinals.
In the league, Milan had its 15-point penalty reduced to nine. The team is now in sixth place, and only four points away from fourth _ and the final Champions League spot _ with a game in hand.
Lazio, which went from relegation to a seven-point penalty to finally a three-point penalty, is in third place and looking good for a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2003.
Besides Juventus, the only other team forced out of the Champions League was Fiorentina. And its penalty was reduced from relegation and a 12-point penalty to minus-15 points in the Serie A. It's now in seventh place in the league.
Reggina was a late arrival to the scandal punishments, but it later picked up a 15-point penalty, which was then reduced to 11. The team and its president were also fined.
Although Reggina is near the bottom of the league standings, it's won only one of its last seven games and can't complain too much that it deserves to be higher.
So maybe it's good that Juventus got a bundle of money from Fiat last week. That should at least offset the only real punishment of the entire fiasco, which is that Juventus won't be able to cash in on the Champions League next season for the second straight year.