Serie A begins under a cloud

Juventus favourites for a third successive scudetto but season already overshadowed by match-fixing and racism scandals.

    Serie A begins under a cloud
    Lazio skipper Stefano Mauri is serving a six-month suspension for his role in a match-fixing scandal [EPA]

    The Serie A season kicks off Saturday and matters off the field are once again overshadowing the football.

    For the third consecutive offseason match-fixing has dominated the headlines, with Lazio captain Stefano Mauri suspended for the first six months for his role in the scandal.

    Lazio, who were fined, and Mauri are appealing but so is prosecutor Stefano Palazzi, who had asked for more than a four-year ban for Mauri and requested that Lazio, along with Genoa and Lecce, be docked points.

    Lazio will be without Mauri for their opening match against Udinese on Sunday. They will also be without one of their main sectors of support after their Curva Nord was closed for one match following racist chanting during the Italian Super Cup loss to Juventus.

    That is also under appeal.

    'Ignorant' fans


    Saturday 24 August

    Verona v AC Milan
    Sampdoria v Juventus

    Saturday 25 August

    Inter Milan v Genoa
    Cagliari v Atalanta
    Lazio v Udinese
    Livorno v Roma
    Napoli v Bologna
    Parma v Chievo
    Torino v Sassuolo

    Monday 26 August

    Fiorentina v Catania

    "We heard it. They're ignorant,'' Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba said.

    "What could I do? I was alone against 30,000 fans. They do that even though there are blacks in their team: it's also a lack of respect towards their own players, too.

    "It's really not nice to come to a football match and hear those sort of things. But I'm a player, I remain focused on my job.''

    Pogba scored the opening goal in the 4-0 victory, less than three minutes after coming on as a substitute for the injured Claudio Marchisio.

    The young Frenchman was a revelation last season after signing from Manchester United and is likely to be a key player this season as Juventus go for a third straight league title.

    New signing Carlos Tevez also scored in the Super Cup triumph, on his debut, and fellow striker Fernando Llorente - who joined on a free transfer from Athletic Bilbao - will be looking to do the same if he makes his first official appearance against Sampdoria on Sunday.

    Sampdoria narrowly avoided relegation last season, but Juventus will be wary, knowing they were the only team to beat the champions twice in the league.

    AC Milan, who are expected to once again challenge Juventus after a season of transition, have what appears to be an easier match as they travel to newly-promoted Hellas Verona in the first game of the weekend on Saturday.

    The other teams which came up from the second division are Livorno and Sassuolo.

    Livorno host Roma on Sunday, while Sassuolo visits Torino for their first ever top-flight match.

    The team will be hoping for better headlines after being part of another racist episode during the offseason. Sassuolo were fined $40,000 after fans racially abused AC Milan midfielder Kevin Constant during a friendly tournament.

    New faces

    Meanwhile, Napoli fans will be eager to see how their new look team fares in their first match, at home to Bologna.

    Tickets are almost sold out for new coach Rafa Benitez's first official match in charge. There will be a tinge of sadness at being without Edinson Cavani, following his departure to Paris Saint-Germain, but that could be swiftly forgotten if the new signings such as Gonzalo Higuain gel quickly.

    Napoli finished as runners-up last season and are likely to be one of Juve's main challengers again this year.

    Previous coach Walter Mazzarri left to take over at Inter Milan, who host Genoa on Saturday.

    Also on Sunday, Cagliari welcomes Atalanta, while Chievo Verona visits Parma.

    On Monday, Fiorentina, who could be a dark horse for the title after some shrewd signings, host Catania.



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