July 10, 2006

Italy basks in glory of fourth World Cup victory, a distraction from scandal at home

ROME -- Italians basked in the glory of their team's fourth and hard-fought World Cup victory on Monday -- a welcome distraction from the match-fixing scandal that has tainted Italian soccer.

Fans celebrated throughout the country well into Monday morning, hitting the streets in droves. Many set off fireworks; others stripped down to their underwear and jumped into fountains.

In Rome, people climbed into and up the historic Trevi fountain, screaming, waving flags and mocking the French. Some clashed with police at a central square by the French embassy.

"Italy of champions," screamed the banner headline across the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera.

"It's all true! World champions" headlined the front page of La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Italy's 5-3 victory over France in a penalty shootout Sunday temporarily set aside concerns about verdicts expected this week in the match-fixing trial that could relegate four teams and 13 of Italy's 23 players to lower divisions.

"It doesn't matter. We won, that's it," said Federica D'Acuti, 26, who was celebrating Italy's victory near Rome's Colosseum early Monday. "We showed that we're not just all about scandal in Italy. We showed that we're strong still."

Some insisted that the current investigation helped inspire the players.

"If the scandal hadn't happened I think we wouldn't have won the World Cup," Italy's midfielder Gennaro Gattuso said. "It has given us more strength."

But the day of reckoning is not far off.

"It is not going to go away," said Alfonso Franco, a 20-year-old mechanic. "We have to deal with this scandal, whether or not we won the World Cup."

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