FIFA report: World Cup ‘friendly’ matches more susceptible to fixing

fifaAljazeera – The man in the dark green shirt and matching scarf, stood, statuesque, on Stevenage Road, in the upper-middle-class district of Fulham in west London. Some other fans, in Scottish kilts, stopped to take his picture. He wanted to be noticed, because he held a placard in front of his chest with words written in red ink across it:

“We don’t fix matches, we WIN them.”

Across the road, at Fulham’s Craven Cottage stadium, the placard bearer’s beloved Nigeria team was about to kick off against Scotland, in the first of Nigeria’s friendly preparation matches for the World Cup. British newspapers had reported earlier in the day that the match had been “red flagged” by the U.K. National Crime Agency (NCA), alerted to an attempt to manipulate the result, by unnamed parties seeking to profit from bets placed on specific events or outcomes during the 90 minutes.

Matches at this stage of the soccer calendar are especially vulnerable to match fixers, as recent investigations by FIFA, the game’s world governing body, have made clear. The period in the lead-up to a major international tournament like the World Cup is filled with so-called friendlies, one-off fixtures arranged by teams that want to use them as stages in a training program to test fitness and tactical strategies ahead of their serious matches. The friendlies often involve opposition with little to play for. All 32 competitors at the Brazil World Cup, which begins June 12, will have played a handful of these friendlies in the three weeks ahead of the tournament opening. Some will have faced fellow World Cup finalists; the majority will feature opponents who are winding down from their club seasons, preparing for their vacations.

Signs of possible rigging have also become harder to detect. With the rise in “spot betting,” in which odds are offered on a vast range of bets — from which team might take the kickoff to the number of corners or yellow cards — the number of ways in which a match might be deliberately influenced has grown. Hundreds of thousands of dollars can be won or lost, not just on the final score of a game but on apparently minor events during it.