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Mama mia! Lazio fans cheer losing

In football, perhaps no division is as bitter as the one between fans of the two Rome teams, AS Roma and Lazio. Now a dispute between the two over a crucial match on Sunday has spilled into politics and become a national case.

On Sunday Lazio lost 2-0 at home to Inter Milan, the club that is locked in a fight with Roma for the Serie A title. Lazio fans packing the Stadio Olimpico cheered, happy to have hurt Roma's chances to win the title. Lazio drew accusations of being unsportsmanlike and handing Inter an easy victory in order to deliberately hurt Roma.

A Lazio victory would have kept Roma -- who had won the day before -- top of the table. The loss put Inter on top again, with a two-point lead with only two games to go.

Comments on Monday ranged from "farce" to "shame" to "embarrassing."

"Inter: It's easy that way," said Rome daily Il Messaggero. "Lazio surrender without a fight."

"Surreal Match," wrote La Gazzetta dello Sport in a front-page editorial.

"Those who love sports, not just football, cannot celebrate in seeing Lazio's quiet obedience to its fans, who wanted it to lose," Italy's largest sports daily wrote.

Untouched by the criticism, Lazio fans celebrated in the stadium when Inter scored. They showed banners that mocked Roma, with one saying: 'Scudetto: Game Over'. Some even celebrated in the streets of the capital, the way fans do when their team actually wins.

Roma president Rosella Sensi said she "would be ashamed to win that way." Inter president Massimo Moratti brushed the controversy aside, simply saying: "It's a problem between Roma and Lazio, it doesn't concern Inter." But he did concede: "The crowd was completely with us and that was a very odd situation."

Football in Italy has a strong political dimension, and this latest dispute has transcended sport.

Politicians were quick to react on Monday, and for once their opinions didn't follow the traditional left versus right divide -- but rather their football allegiances.

Some lawmakers said they were seeking a parliamentary investigation lamenting the fact that games are held at different times. They say this affects a race that is down to the wire.

The dispute even reached the spokesman for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party, Daniele Capezzone, who called on team executives and players alike "to provide convincing explanations of what happened."

Berlusconi, himself a football fan and owner of Serie A team AC Milan, has not publicly commented.

The rivalry between teams in Italy can be ferocious, and at times deadly.

Lazio president Paolo Lotito said Monday that prior to the match he had received an envelope with bullets and death threats in case his team did not beat Inter, the ANSA news agency reported.

After the last Roma-Lazio derby in April, seven fans were injured, some suffering knife wounds, in clashes between supporters. When the clubs met in December, the game was suspended for nearly 10 minutes during the first half due to firecrackers exploding in the stands.

In 2004 the derby was stopped three minutes into the second half when a rumour spread through the stadium that police had killed a boy outside the stadium, sparking riots.