England captain John Terry will stand trial after the European Championship over allegations he racially abused an opponent during a Premier League match - possibly clearing the way for him to play in the tournament.
England coach Fabio Capello has previously stressed that Terry is "innocent until proven guilty," meaning Terry could remain captain at the June 8-July 1 tournament.
The Chelsea defender is accused of shouting abusive comments at Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during an October match. He did not attend Wednesday's first hearing into the case, where his legal team entered a plea of not guilty. The Westminster Magistrates' Court then set a trial date of July 9.
District Judge Howard Riddle had hoped the case could be heard in March, but accepted that other Chelsea players would not be able to appear as witnesses until the end of the football season.
The 31-year-old Terry faces a maximum fine of 2,500 pounds ($3,940) if he becomes the first top footballer in England to be convicted of racial abuse during a game.
"Mr. Terry looks forward to the opportunity to clear his name," Terry's legal team said in a statement after the hearing. "Mr. Terry has consistently and resolutely maintained that his well publicized remarks were made in the belief that he was being accused of racist abuse by Mr. Ferdinand.
"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 offense. Mr. Terry has never racially abused another player in his entire career."
The statement added that Terry has "cooperated fully and proactively with those investigating this matter."
The allegations first surfaced when footage was posted online of Terry appearing to hurl abuse at Ferdinand during Chelsea's 1-0 loss at west London rivals QPR in October.
Terry has said his comments were taken out of context and that he was responding to an accusation from Ferdinand.
The delay in the case means that Terry could be partnering Ferdinand's brother Rio in central defence at Euro 2012 with the allegations still unresolved.
Terry has already lost the England captaincy once - to Rio Ferdinand ahead of the 2010 World Cup - after being embroiled in a sex scandal, but he regained the armband last year.
Terry's case comes while Liverpool striker Luis Suarez is serving an eight-match ban for repeatedly racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra during another Premier League match in October.