Posted: Wednesday August 22, 2012 1:22PM ; Updated: Wednesday August 22, 2012 1:22PM

Juventus prepares to defend Serie A title

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TURIN, Italy (AP) -- After a summer of discontent, defending champion Juventus is gearing up for a tough season.

It should have been an offseason of celebration for the club after winning its first Serie A title in nine years. Instead Juventus has been back in the courts fighting off another match-fixing scandal ahead of the Serie A opener against Parma on Saturday.

While Juventus itself was not accused of any wrongdoing - unlike the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, which resulted in the Old Lady of Italian football being stripped of two league titles and relegated to Serie B - it has been busy defending coach Antonio Conte and players Leonardo Bonucci and Simone Pepe,.

The Italian football federation handed a 10-month ban to Conte on Aug. 10 for failing to report match-fixing when he was coach of then-Serie B side Siena. Juventus' appeal against Conte's ban, and a separate appeal by a federal prosecutor against verdicts clearing Bonucci and Pepe, were both rejected on Wednesday.

Juventus had managed to put the matter to one side on the pitch when it beat Napoli 4-2 after extra time on Aug. 11 to claim a controversial Italian Supercup victory and exact revenge for its defeat in the Italian Cup final.

Bonucci played in the Supercup, little over 24 hours after he had been cleared of wrongdoing.

"I knew I was innocent so I've always gone around with my head held high,'' Bonucci said. "Justice was served and the truth came out. Bonucci cleared, Bonucci starts in the Supercup, we win the Supercup. This is certainly just the beginning, in a long and demanding season.

"Mentally I knew I was facing a double challenge, because behind me I had all that's gone on off the pitch, and in front of me dangerous opponents on the pitch. We came good though. But that's Juve for you, a team that proves they are better than the rest on the pitch.''

It remains to be seen whether Juventus will be affected by the saga or whether all the drama will serve to bring the players closer together and foster an even closer sense of team spirit.

The first signs point to the latter, with all the players and staff speaking out after the match and dedicating the trophy to Conte.

"This is a victory by Antonio Conte and for Antonio Conte,'' said Giuseppe Marotta. "An impeccable victory to dedicate to our coach, who prepared for the match impeccably throughout the week.''

Assistant coach Massimo Carrera was in the dugout in place of Conte and will stand in for him for the duration of his suspension.

"Our first thoughts go to the boss,'' Carrera said after the Supercup. "We've shown that we're a close-knit group that sticks together.

"We're all rowing in the same direction and we know where we want to be. I must congratulate the lads because they put in a fantastic performance today.''

However, with all the talk focused on Conte's absence and Napoli's decision to boycott the post-match award ceremony in protest over the refereeing in the match, attention has shifted away from the game.

Juve looked a shadow of the team that won the title without losing a game last season and could have been beaten were it not for some decisions in its favor.

However, once its new signings settle in, the team could once again prove a formidable force.

The Bianconeri have made a few forays into the transfer market, notably signing midfielders Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla from Udinese.

However, it is striker Sebastian Giovinco who could make the difference. Giovinco enjoyed another impressive season for Parma last year, with his 15 goals and numerous assists helping his team to an eighth-place finish in Serie A.

One player who will be notably absent, for the first time in nearly 20 years, is Alessandro Del Piero, who left the club at the end of the season.

The striker spent most of his career at Juventus after signing from Padova in 1993 and he stuck by the club when it was relegated.

No one will wear his famous No. 10 jersey in the upcoming season.

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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