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English football was stunned on Monday night by claims that one of Liverpool’s Champions League games was fixed.
Investigators Europol are reported to have identified their 2009 victory over Hungarian side Debrecen at Anfield as one of 380 worldwide to have been successfully targeted by a far eastern betting ring.
Debrecen goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic was allegedly paid to ensure there were more than two goals in the match — something he failed to engineer. Liverpool won the game 1-0 and had seven shots on target — including one from Fernando Torres that Poleksic palmed into the path of Dirk Kuyt for the winner.
If Debrecen goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic was paid to ensure there were more than two goals in the game at Anfield on September 17 2009, he did not do a very good job.
Poleksic did palm a Fernando Torres shot into the path of Dirk Kuyt for the one goal which was scored, just before half-time.
But even though Liverpool had a poor night in front of goal — they had just put three past Bolton and four past Burnley respectively — the keeper had plenty of other opportunities to concede if he had wanted to as Liverpool had seven shots on target in all.
Steven Gerrard hit the bar, but by the closing 15 minutes Poleksic had little to do as then Reds manager Rafa Benitez was making defensive changes to hold on to the lead.
Steven Gerrard also hit the bar but by the closing 15 minutes manager Rafa Benitez was making defensive substitutions to hold on to the lead.
In text messages recovered by police, the people behind the match-fixing bemoaned the fact that Gerrard missed some presentable chances, according to Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet.
Later on in the group stage, Poleksic was again allegedly paid to fix their match against Fiorentina, which the Italians won 4-3.
The goalkeeper has since been banned from all football activities for failing to report match fixing activities.
The Debrecen game is believed to be one of more than 380 professional matches across the world — including World Cup and European Championship qualifiers and two Champions League games — under investigation by Europol.
They say 425 match officials, club officials, players and serious criminals, from more than 15 countries, are suspected of being involved in attempts to fix matches. Europol declined to specify the Champions League tie under investigation because of ‘ongoing judicial proceedings’.
The English clubs involved have yet to be contacted by Europol and the FA claim they are ‘not aware of any credible reports into suspicious Champions League fixtures in this country’.
Privately, they feel that the claims are ill-founded. There is no suspicion on Liverpool and a club spokesman said: ‘Nobody from Europol has been in contact with us.’
UEFA confirmed they are assisting Europol with the investigation and re-affirmed their ‘zero-tolerance’ policy towards match-fixing.
Rob Wainwright, head of law enforcement at Europol, claimed yesterday that a Singapore-based crime group is involved in the biggest corruption ring in the history of football. More than £6.9million in betting profits and £1.72m in bribes to players and match officials have already been uncovered.
Wainwright said: ‘It would be naive and complacent of those in the UK to think such a criminal conspiracy does not involve the English game and all the football in Europe. This is the first time we have established substantial evidence that organised crime is now operating in the world of football.
‘It is clear that the focus of this investigation has been on other countries, not the United Kingdom. However we were surprised by the scale of the criminal enterprise and just how widespread it was. This is a sad day for European football.’
Although the Barclays Premier League is not under investigation, it is understood the Europol probe involves a Champions League clash played in the past four years.
According to Europol sources, of the 300 games investigated there is ‘solid evidence’ on at least 150 matches. Corruption is a bigger problem in other countries. Turkey has 79 suspicious games under investigation, with Germany (70), Switzerland (41), Finland (32), Hungary (20) and Belgium (19) also under the microscope.
Two Champions League matches, 14 Europa League and a Europa League tie are forming part of the worldwide inquiry.
UEFA are co-operating with Europol and insist the fight against fixing and manipulation continues. A spokesman said: ‘UEFA is aware of the statements made by Europol regarding alleged match-fixing in various compet itions and expects to receive further information in the coming days.
‘As part of the fight against the manipulation of matches, UEFA is already cooperating with the authorities on these serious matters as part of its zero-tolerance policy towards match-fixing in our sport. Once the details of these investigations are in UEFA’s hands, they will be reviewed by the appropriate disciplinary bodies in order that the necessary measures are taken.’
The FA are also awaiting developments as Wainwright vowed to continue the investigation into the alleged corruption ring.
A spokesman at Wembley said: ‘The Football Association are not aware of any credible reports into suspicious Champions League fixtures in England, nor has any information been shared with us.
‘While the Champions League comes under UEFA jurisdiction, the FA, alongside the Premier League, Football League and Conference, monitor markets for the top seven leagues and three major cup competitions in England and take matters of integrity in football extremely seriously.’
FIFA’s head of security Ralf Mutschke said prison sentences for fixing needed to be tougher.
He said: ‘In football, a national association can sanction a member of the football family if they are found guilty of contravening the legal, football framework.
‘FIFA’s disciplinary code provides the opportunity to extend those sanctions, and impose a life ban. But for people outside football, currently the custodial sentences imposed are too weak, and offer little to deter someone from getting involved in match-fixing.’
Kristoffer Wichmann, a 31-year-old right back who plays for second-tier side FC Vestsjaelland, was deemed to have used middlemen to place bets on the match, although he is appealing against the ban.
Chris Eaton, former head of corruption at FIFA and now director of sport integrity specialists ICSS, claims betting rings are the source of most match-fixing allegations.
Eaton said: ‘Put simply, betting fraud is the basis and motivation for modern match-fixing. Both are crimes and both are rampant internationally.
‘Both need to be confronted if we are to clean up sport and safeguard the integrity of sport among fans, supporters and sponsors.
‘You cannot, though, just focus on sport alone. This is akin to only focusing on the addicts and dealers of the illicit drug trade, and ignoring the manufacturers and financiers.’