World Cup 2014: Shadow of alleged match-fixing allegations already haunting competition - by Paul Kelso, The Telegraph
The preliminary draw for Brazil's World Cup took place on Saturday but already the shadow of alleged match-fixing has touched the 2014 qualifying tournament. The threat of fixing was highlighted by Fifa president Sepp Blatter prior to the draw in Rio and Telegraph Sport can disclose that one of the early rounds of Asian qualifying has been internally investigated following allegations of manipulation.
Fifa investigators have been alerted to unusual betting patterns in connection with the two-legged tie between Cambodia and Laos in the first round of the Asian Football Confederation qualifying zone. Both countries were eliminated before the preliminary draw in Rio, but the case highlights the rash of match-fixing allegations that have touched teams in more than 50 countries.
The first game in Phnom Penh on June 29 was won 4-2 by Cambodia, with the return in Vientiane on July 3 won by Laos 6-2 after extra time, enough for them to progress to the second round. The second leg was followed by accusations in Cambodia that the game was manipulated, and Telegraph Sport understands that data from betting monitoring software, including the Early Warning System used by Fifa, has highlighted unusual patterns, particularly in the first game.
The last goal in that game, scored by Cambodia in the 88th minute, attracted highly unusual betting patterns. With 86 minutes gone Cambodia were five-to-one on to score again on Asian handicap markets, an extreme price. According to footage of the game on YouTube, Cambodia had two goals disallowed in the last six minutes, after 84 and 86 minutes, and Laos had a penalty appeal turned down in the 88th minute shortly before Cambodia’s Samel Nasa scored.
The second leg finished 4-2 to Laos after 90 minutes, with two further goals in extra time sealing their progress to the second round, where they lost to China 13-3 on aggregate. Fifa would not comment on whether the case was part of its ongoing investigation into match fixing. In a statement Fifa said: “We cannot confirm or deny any specific investigation taking place on these matches”.
The Football Federation of Cambodia carried out an internal investigation after receiving allegations that the games might have been manipulated, but has found no evidence of match-fixing. In an emailed response to questions May Tola, the deputy general-secretary of the FFC, said that it had heard “unconfirmed rumours” about the tie, and that supporters had made accusations after the disappointment of the second-leg defeat. Some had accused players of result manipulation,” Tola wrote. "Immediately after the team returned home, our FFC leadership has instructed the federation to form an investigation commission to find out if there is any irregularities as rumoured accusation [sic]. After thorough examination and discussion, the Commission has found no substantial evidence or suspicion that the match had been manipulated by players or whosoevers [sic] within the team.”
The acting president of the Asian Football Confederation told Telegraph Sport that while he was not aware of any direct evidence that the Cambodia v Laos games were “not genuinely contested”, the allegations underlined “the destructive nature of match-fixing”. Zhang Jilong, of China, who became acting president when Mohamed bin Hammam was suspended by Fifa, described match-fixing as a “pandemic” in world football, and is hoping to open a dedicated Fifa security office in Asia next year.
Jilong said: “There is no doubt that match-fixing is a real danger to football’s ethical values and needs to be completely eliminated to preserve the sanctity of the sport. AFC will not rest until this plague is completely stamped out in Asia.”
Asia is considered the hub of match-fixing and Jilong is in talks with Fifa’s security department to open a dedicated security office in Asia by the start of 2012. The latest concerns come as Fifa prepares to take disciplinary action against six match officials involved in two notorious internationals staged in Antalya, Turkey, in February, in which all seven goals were penalties. The referees, from Hungary and Bosnia, have been summoned to appear at a disciplinary hearing in Zurich next week, though none is expected to attend having already been banned for life by their home federations.
Postscript: The local Phnom Penh Post newspaper carried the fact that the Federation in Cambodia were forming a Commission soon after the team returned from the heavy 2nd leg defeat but then it went as quiet as a pin-drop, until May Tola's statement to The Telegraph. To be honest any match-fixing allegations might've been raised after the 2nd leg rather than the 1st leg that was played in Phnom Penh, so the focus on the betting patterns in the first match are an interesting development. There were indeed two 'goals' ruled out very near the end of the match and a claim for a penalty turned down, but for that to be part of a match-fixing allegation, then the involvement of both teams and the match officials surely would've been required. Too often, the stench of match-fixing lingers on, without anyone actually providing evidence. It's so easy to allege match-fixing but unless there's clear evidence, I say shut the fcuk up.