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Asian Games football hit by match fixing?

In about a week, one of the 29 countries taking part in the Under-23 football tournament in the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, will be crowned champions.

But has the kelong scourge tainted the integrity of the tournament?

Sportradar, a sports betting analysis company, said betting patterns in some matches indicated that they might have been compromised.

In an exclusive e-mail interview, Mr Andreas Krannich, Sportradar's managing director of strategy and integrity, shared his findings with The New Paper on Tuesday.

He said: "We can say that we strongly believe there have been manipulated matches at the Asian Games...

"For example, on a certain match in this competition, bettors were incredibly confident of a goal being scored in the final minutes. The odds movements and the deviations caused alerts, belying clear betting evidence that could never be justified in a regular contest."

SUSPICIOUS

The amount of the bets for the suspicious matches is not known.

Due to contractual obligations, Mr Krannich is not able to reveal the teams involved in the matches under suspicion.

He added: "The betting markets for match-fixing in this region are often the same - the Asian Handicap and Asian Totals market.

"While pre-match betting is often observed, it is the live betting which is often the most suspicious."

He said that the betting patterns in the live betting for some matches suggested that unknown persons were aware that goals would be scored late in those matches.

In live betting, bets can be placed while the match is being played.

Mr Krannich said that "a number of matches were manipulated in the same fashion, suggesting that the same syndicate is operating in Incheon, South Korea".

World football governing body Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have been alerted to these unusual betting patterns through their fraud detection early warning system.

TNP understands that three late-scoring matches have come under suspicion. Two of them involved Laos, which lost 4-0 to Malaysia and 3-0 to Saudi Arabia. There were three late goals in both matches.

In the third match, Nepal lost 4-0 to Iraq, with two late goals.

During the 2012 Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, Laos were implicated in a 4-1 defeat by Malaysia at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Selangor. The match was believed to have been fixed.

TNP reported on the allegations in March 2013, citing Sportradar's dossier or what is known as a betting analysis report. The classified document was shown to TNP by a source in Malaysia.

Sportradar's Fraud Detection System (FDS), which identifies betting-related manipulation in sport, rated the match at warning level 2, indicating that "evidence suggests it is extremely likely that a game has been manipulated".

The report also said: "The odds witnessed are impossible to justify in a regular match and the FDS is certain the result was manipulated.

"Alongside the betting for Laos to lose, we witnessed betting for at least five goals... This was connected to the betting for Laos to lose by three goals.

"Therefore, when Laos trailed 2-1, the only realistic scorelines were a 4-1 or 5-1 loss."

While the identities of the match fixers behind the Asian Games remain unknown, sports fraud investigator Michael Pride from SI Sports Intelligence (SI) said he would not be surprised if history was repeating itself.

Mr Pride, the operations director at SI, said: "Until somebody takes a serious look at the allegations or is prepared to give out harsh punishments, it (match fixing) will continue.

"It's frustrating but match fixing happens because the monetary gains for corrupt players and the profits from illegal betting for fixers are good."

Mr Pride has been investigating kelong allegations involving teams from Indochina since 2012.

He showed TNP a video clip in which a Laos national player said a 2014 World Cup qualifying match against Cambodia in June 2011, among others, had been fixed.

The footballer alleged: "Before the game, all the players knew what the score was going to be."

Laos lost 4-2 to Cambodia.

"For example, on a certain match in this competition, bettors were incredibly confident of a goal being scored in the final minutes. The odds movements and the deviations caused alerts, belying clear betting evidence that could never be justified in a regular contest."

- Mr Andreas Krannich, Sportradar's managing director of strategy and integrity

Governing bodies aware of allegations

Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) are aware of the match-fixing suspicions at the Asian Games and are monitoring the situation, The New Paper has learnt.

In response to queries by TNP, AFC said it was not in a position to respond to the questions "as the Asian Games, including the football competition, is under the purview of the Olympic Council of Asia".

Mr Andreas Krannich, Sportradar's managing director of strategy and integrity, told TNP that AFC, which helps to run the Asian Games football tournament, has been "extremely proactive in their approach to stamping out match fixing".

Through those who are privy to the allegations, TNP has learnt that Fifa and AFC are monitoring the situation through their respective integrity units and match-review panels, which look out for suspicious incidents.

Replying to TNP's queries, Fifa said that it could not confirm whether investigations into match fixing were underway so as not to compromise any possible investigations.

"The integrity of the game is a top priority for Fifa and we take any allegations of match manipulation very seriously," it added.

EVIDENCE?

A source said that action could not be taken against teams based on suspicions and allegations, but only when there is clear evidence.

When asked about the win over Laos, Malaysian Under-23 coach Ong Kim Swee said that he had not noticed anything suspicious.

On Laos leaking late goals, he told TNP: "I believe their fitness and physical condition is one aspect you have to look at."

He said the Laos team had arrived just a day before their first match against Saudi Arabia and they had little rest because of some accreditation issues.

"I watched the match against Saudi and they were doing well, but you have to say (because of the previous day's incident) that fatigue would well be a factor," Ong added.

"In our game, we needed to push the players to get more goals than what Saudi got against them and I didn't notice anything strange. But I don't look at aspects besides what my team have to do."

Laos Football Association general secretary Xaybandith Rasphone said he did not know of any foul play.

"As far as I know, we have not heard anything (regarding suspicious play)," he said.

"We lost by just 2-0 to South Korea, who are a strong team, and the players tried their best to compete."

Heavy betting on big win

Going by form and team strength, Malaysia were expected to beat Laos in their Group A match on Sept 17.

Betting odds reflected this, with the pre-match Asian Handicap set around the three-goal mark. This meant that punters backing Malaysia needed Laos to lose by at least four goals to win.

After Malaysia went a goal up in the first half, at least one Internet betting site gave unusually short odds for Malaysia to clear a two-goal handicap, with a payout ranging from 20 to 40 cents for a $1 bet.

This suggested there was heavy betting on Malaysia to clear the handicap, which required the Young Tigers to score at least three more goals without conceding for punters backing Malaysia to win.

Even though Malaysia failed to score again for more than an hour after their 12th-minute opener, the odds did not improve.

Then Laos leaked three goals in the 76th, 79th and 83rd minutes without reply.

This was not the first time that Laos had shipped late goals at this Asian Games.

In their Group A opener, they conceded three goals after the 75th minute to lose 3-0 to Saudi Arabia on Sept 14.

On Sept 21, they lost 2-0 to hosts South Korea, conceding the second goal in the 89th minute. Short odds were offered for an outcome featuring fewer than four goals.

With the three defeats, Laos failed to qualify for the round of 16.