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FOOTBALL: GLADIATOR PAOLO'S SALUTE TO FANS WAS ARMLESS; LAZIO BOSS BACKS DI CANIO.

LAZIO'S new coach has jumped to the defence of Paolo di Canio following the storm that has erupted after his straight-arm salute to delighted fans in Rome's Stadio Olimpico.

The former Celtic star scored one goal and laid on another in the 3-1 derby win over hated rivals Roma which restored local pride for a Lazio club who have teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and slid down Serie A.

Giuseppe Papadopolu, who took over at Christmas, said: 'Everyone has used what Paolo did to make a case for whatever political side they come from.

'What they all forget is that Paolo was only using the salute which the soldiers used in the Roman empire or the gladiators who went out to fight in the Coliseum.

'Well, Paolo is a footballing gladiator - that is why he is our captain and our best player, even though he's now 36.

'The game needs characters like di Canio. For us he's a symbol and a leader,like Giorgio Chinaglia back in the early 1970s. I wish I had a team of di Canios.'

Last season's derby was halted by a terrace riot and the Stadio Olimpico was shut by UEFA after a referee-felling missile attack at a Champions League tie earlier this season.

Officials from both clubs had appealed for players and fans to keep a lid on the temperature of last Thursday's game but di Canio forgot all that in the excitement of his superb goal - which he celebrated first in front of furious Roma fans.

Police, magistrates and football federation officials are examining video and photographic evidence to try to decide whether di Canio committed any breach of the peace or crowd incitement offences.

Lazio were long associated with the pre-war dictator Benito Mussolini who popularised use of the straight-arm fascist salute in 1930s Italy.

Roma director Franco Baldini said: 'What he did sent a bad image of Rome around the world. It only needs something like that to set off riots and fighting.'

Mussolini's grand-daughter, Alessandro Mussolini, disagreed. She said: 'I loved to see that gesture of honesty. I'm going to write to di Canio to thank him.'

Di Canio was on target again yesterday in Lazio's 3-2 win at Fiorentina. Goran Pandev and Ousmane Dabo were the Roman club's other scorers.

Juventus remain top of Serie A after Mauro Camoranesi's double helped them beat strugglers Livorno 4-2.

Alessandro Del Piero and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were also on target for Juve, who had drawn their previous two games.

Unpredictable Inter Milan scored three times in the last few minutes to come back from 2-0 down to beat Sampdoria 3-2.

Obafemi Martins scored in the 88th and set up Christian Vieri for a 90th-minute equaliser before substitute Alvaro Recoba netted the winner in injury time.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 10, 2005
Words:463
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