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   June 9, 2002 | 1730 IST



Battle of Wits

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Press voice Italian fury over 'robbery'

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Italy cried foul on Sunday over controversial refereeing decisions that condemned the national team to an unexpected World Cup defeat by Croatia.

"What a theft!" Corriere dello Sport screamed in a front-page headline, reflecting nationwide outrage after two Italian goals were disallowed in a 2-1 loss to Croatia on Saturday.

"Scandalous refereeing," said La Gazzetta Sportiva , the Sunday edition of Italy's leading sports daily.

Il Giornale ran a picture of a stricken Italian player lying face down on the pitch with the words "Goal thieves", fuelling allegations of conspiracy in Italy.

"This is the confirmation that on an international level we are nobody... we don't carry any political weight," Franco Sensi the president of Serie A squad AS Roma was quoted as saying by Corriere dello Sport .

Italy have decided not to file a complaint with world soccer body FIFA over the two disallowed efforts, leaving players and commentators to voice the nation's dismay with British referee Graham Poll and Danish linesman Jens Larsen.

"We burn referees like that at the stake," Italian captain and veteran defenceman Paolo Maldini was quoted as saying by Corriere della Sera .

Italian television stations led their news shows with the defeat, endlessly replaying the two incidents.

They said the images showed that linesman Larsen had made a mistake in waving for offside to disallow a Christian Vieri header that would have put Italy 1-0 ahead.

The second decision came in added time with Croatia 2-1 ahead, when striker Filippo Inzaghi was penalised for pulling a defender's shirt before putting the ball in the net.

Commentators said Inzaghi was also obstructed and noted that the foul was called by Larsen, who was further away from the incident than referee Poll.

"It is the first time that I have ever seen a linesman decide about a foul in the penalty area," said Italian midfielder Angelo Di Livio.

Italian newspapers were quick to point out that the same linesman had officiated at the 2000 European championship final between Italy and France and said his "errors" then had caused their team to lose 2-1.

Despite universal dismay over the refereeing, newspapers also directed fire at coach Giovanni Trapattoni, criticising him for not starting the group G game with two strikers.

"How many errors my dear Trap?" La Gazzetta Sportiva asked.

However, Trapattoni defended his team, telling Corriere della Sera : "I'm bitter because in soccer there are so many ways you can lose -- but here we deserved at the very least a draw.

"We had two goals that were disallowed for irregularities that you can see on TV didn't exist. I will not talk about Italy being robbed but on the field we saw a different result."

After Mexico's 2-1 win over Ecuador in group G on Sunday, former champions Italy must win their final group game, against Mexico on Thursday, to go through to the next round.

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