BEIJING: Juventus' preparations for the Italian Supercup against Napoli were thrown into disarray after coach Antonio Conte was suspended for 10 months for his role in a match-fixing scandal yesterday.
The club plans to appeal the suspension, but whatever the outcome it will come too late for Saturday's match in Beijing. Juventus will instead be coached by assistant Massimo Carrera.
Conte, who led Juventus to the Serie A title last season, was punished for failing to report match-fixing in two games during the 2010-11 season when he was coach of then-Serie B side Siena.
Juventus will also be without winger Simone Pepe and defender Leonardo Bonucci despite the pair being cleared in the fixing scandal.
"We're good, we're focused and we're really up for this challenge," defender Andrea Barzagli said. "Stories off the pitch don't trouble us. In fact, maybe they fire us up more. When you go out onto the pitch everything else stays behind and you only think about the game."
Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri does not think Conte's absence will have much bearing on the match.
"With good coaches, it doesn't change much if they don't sit on the bench," he said. "A coach can't affect much during the game."
The traditional season opener between the Serie A champions and the Italian Cup winners is taking place for the third time in four years in Beijing.
Napoli was the only team to beat Juventus last season, winning 2-0 in the Italian Cup final, but Barzagli is confident of a different outcome this time around.
"We know Napoli's strengths. It has a great potential and important players. But the real protagonist last year was Juve, and I think Napoli will have to do a lot of work if it wants to win the Supercup,"Barzagli said. "We will be aggressive and try to impose our game. In short, the same Juve as always."
Juventus has won the competition five times and finished runner-up on four occasions. The club's last Supercup appearance was in 2005 when it lost to Inter Milan.
Napoli has only played one Supercup, and will be hoping for a repeat of its 5-1 win against Juventus in 1990.
"Being here in Beijing to play for a prestigious trophy means that we have done something important," Mazzarri said. "This challenge is a source of happiness and pride for us.
"We're up against a team that crushed everyone last season in the league. But we're doing well. Up to now I've seen really good signs all well, and I hope to see the best Napoli on Saturday too."
It will also be the first time for both sides without their talisman. Juventus will be without Alessandro Del Piero, who left at the end of the season after nearly 20 years at the club.
While Napoli star Ezequiel Lavezzi moved to big-spending Paris Saint-Germain in the offseason.
The match is expected to nevertheless be an entertaining one. Napoli came closest to beating Juventus in the league last season, when it led 3-1 at home before Juve escaped with a draw. The return match finished 3-0 to the Turin outfit.