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Terry faces trial in July over race claims

By Reuters

Chelsea and England soccer captain John Terry will go on trial in July after he pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to racially abusing opponent Anton Ferdinand during a Premier League match in October.

The trial, which could last up to five days, will take place after the Euro 2012 tournament when Terry is expected to line up at the heart of England's defence alongside Ferdinand's brother, Rio.

Terry did not attend Wednesday's hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in central London.

"Now that the court has fixed a date for trial, Mr Terry looks forward to the opportunity to clear his name," the player's legal firm Grosvenor Law LLP said in a statement.

"Mr Terry has consistently and resolutely maintained that his well publicised remarks were made in the belief that he was being accused of racist abuse by Mr Ferdinand," it added.

"Mr Terry was shocked and disgusted by that accusation at the time. Mr Terry denies making any racist statement and will establish in court that he is not guilty of any such offence. Mr Terry has never racially abused another player in his entire career."

In December, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) ordered Terry to be prosecuted for a "racially aggravated public order offence" over comments allegedly made to Anton Ferdinand in an on-field exchange during Chelsea's 1-0 defeat by Queens Park Rangers.

The CPS took action after video of the incident was posted on the internet and a member of the public complained that Terry had used allegedly racist language when speaking to Ferdinand.

Terry could be fined up to 2,500 pounds ($3,900) if convicted, only a fraction of his weekly wage. However, such a verdict could have an impact on his lucrative sponsorship deals and relationship with Chelsea team mates drawn from around the globe.

Allegations of racial abuse have cast a shadow over the Premier League this season. Liverpool's Luis Suarez was banned for eight matches for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra during a match in October in a case dealt with by the football authorities.

Chelsea Football Club has stood by Terry, who as the long-serving club captain is revered by the Blues fans for his commitment and passion on the pitch.

Terry missed Chelsea's 1-1 draw with Swansea on the eve of the court case with a knee injury. Coach Andres Villas-Boas said on Monday he would consider giving Terry time away from his football commitments to clear his name if it was needed.