With international football once again under siege, UEFA and FIFA have no time to waste in launching an investigation into allegations of match fixing that could sink the Champions League.
According to the Daily Mail, ARJEL, the French online-gaming authority, is looking into apparent improprieties surrounding Lyon's 7-1 victory over Dinamo Zagreb. The victory and the margin put Lyon through to the knockout stage of the competition ahead of Dutch champion Ajax out of Group D.
The Kids needed a sizable victory, along with a loss by Ajax to Real Madrid, to make up what had been a seven-goal deficit in the differential standings.
Of greatest concern was the second-half performance of Lyon striker Bafetimbi Gomis, who set a Champions League record with three goals in a seven-minute span against a 10-man Dinamo side, whose fate in European play had been decided well before Wednesday's result.
More red flags went up when Dinamo's Domagoj Vida was caught winking at Gomis after Lisandro Lopez scored Lyon's fifth goal of the fixture.
Lyon's six-goal triumph, combined with Ajax's 3-0 loss to Madrid (which included two disallowed goals for the Amsterdam side), was just enough to push the French squad over the top.
Zagreb and UEFA have both opposed the idea of investigating the matter. Zagred declared in a prepared statement that it would be "'scandalous and malicious to proclaim the Champions League match as suspicious," while UEFA has pointed to a lack of irregular betting patterns surrounding the match as detected by its Betting Fraud Detection System.
However, the potential for match fixing may not be dependent on outside influences. Speculative as this suggestion is, it's entirely possible that Lyon paid off Zagreb—in some form or another—in order to make it easier for them to move on to the next round of the competition.
After all, competing in the knockout stage is a highly lucrative proposition for any club, with its expanded revenue streams from television broadcasts and ticket sales. It wouldn't be out of the question for people connected in some way to Lyon to approach Zagreb, a squad with little more than pride to play for, to help in their effort to advance.
Then again, it's just as plausible that Lyon, playing with its hair on fire and against a man-down Dinamo side that came into the match with a 2-15 goal differential, could've earned its way into the second spot in Group D legitimately, as suspicious as it all may seem.
Meanwhile, Lyon is cooperating with ARJEL's inquiries. Ajax manager Frank de Boer seems to be treading lightly in his criticism of the matter:
If there was something unusual, UEFA should investigate what happened in Zagreb. My assistants have told me that the goals came quick and easy, because you can’t normally score these goals in half an hour.
Ultimately, if UEFA is intent on maintaining the integrity of its most valuable asset, then it must embark upon its own fact-finding mission, regardless of what turns up. Otherwise, the organization will risk losing the trust of legions of fans and, perhaps, some of Europe's biggest clubs that may not want to sully themselves by associating with a scandalous institution.
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