‘Team X’ on fixture list in Italy’s chaotic Serie B


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Italy's second division campaign is due to kick off on Saturday with one of the 22 teams still to be decided after a summer of confusion and legal wrangling.

Serie B organisers referred to the missing club as "Team X" as the season's fixture list was finally unveiled on Wednesday amid continuing uncertainty.

"Team X" were due to stage the opening game of the competition at home to Latina on Saturday evening, although that will now be postponed.

Although Italy's top flight Serie A has become notorious for stadium problems, financial difficulties, racism and crowd violence, those troubles are magnified further down the league pyramid.

The Serie B saga began when Siena, who finished ninth last season, were relegated to the fourth tier after falling foul of financial regulations.

Organisers initially decided to cut the league to 21 teams as part of a long-term plan to eventually reduce it to 20.

However, Novara, the highest placed of the four teams relegated last season, protested and an Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) tribunal ruled that Serie B must continue with 22 teams this season.

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) was asked to find the 22nd team and declined to automatically include Novara as they are among the clubs who have had points deducted in the last two years over the Calcioscommesse match-fixing scandal.

Instead, the FIGC chose to use a complex ranking system to choose a team from among those who were either relegated from Serie B last season or finished in the top half of the third-tier Lega Pro.

The FIGC will award points based on each team's position in the league last term, their city's "sporting tradition" and the team's average attendances over the past five seasons.

Italian media have calculated that Pisa and Juve Stabia are the best placed teams, although Novara, who would have finished top of the rankings, have appealed against their exclusion.

At least 12 teams are in the running for the vacant spot, according to Italian media, which means with the season three days away none of them know which division they will play in.

This has had a knock-on affect on Lega Pro where it is also not clear who will be taking part this season.

The FIGC is expected to announce its decision on Thursday, although that could be postponed by further appeals against clubs who think they have been given a raw deal.

The confusion reflects the often chaotic situation of the lower divisions of Italian league football which is even more prone to match-fixing and violence than troubled Serie A.

Serie B and Lega Pro were at the core of the Calcioscommesse match-fixing scandal, which affected the 2010/11 seasons and led to more than 50 players being banned and more than one dozen clubs having points deducted.

In January, Nocerina were expelled from Lega Pro over a derby match which was abandoned after half the team went down with alleged injuries.

Nocerina's match at Salernitana was called off after they made their three permitted substitutions in the first two minutes and five players went off injured in the next 20, leaving them below the required minimum of seven players.

The incident came amid reports that Nocerina had received death threats from their own fans, who had wanted the match called off.

In another bizarre incident this year, Sicilian amateur team Bagheria, who play in the eighth tier, scored eight own goals in the last 10 minutes as they lost a regional cup match 14-3.

In May, fifth division side Cavese 1919 thrashed depleted Licata 19-5 after their opponents only fielded nine players, all from the youth team, due to an internal dispute.

For all this, the lower divisions hold the balance of power in Italian football.

Carlo Tavecchio was controversially elected FIGC president earlier this month thanks to the backing of Lega Pro and the Amateur Leagues' Association (LND), who between them hold 51 per cent of the votes.

Amid widespread disbelief among anti-discrimination campaigners abroad, Tavecchio was swept home despite referring to African players as "banana eaters" during a prepared speech to the LND.

The players' association, coaches' association and a number of Serie A clubs, including champions Juventus, had voted for his opponent Demetrio Albertini but were simply outnumbered.


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