Lyon's Champions League Qualification: A Fix Made in Zagreb and Amsterdam?

Manuel TraqueteSenior Analyst IDecember 17, 2011

Regardless of what might happen hereafter, the 2011-2012 UEFA Champions League is already tarnished by the extremely dodgy circumstances in which Olympique Lyonnais advanced to the knockout rounds.

Most football fans who in any way followed the events of the final day of Group D immediately suspected that something wasn't quite right, a suspect further strengthened by some facts revealed in the following days.

In spite of the extremely suspect events that took place on that day, UEFA decided not to open an investigation, in a move that in no way benefits their credibility. If anything, their unwillingness to investigate raises even more suspicions.

After all, shouldn't UEFA and all parties involved want to clear their name of any possible corruption suspicion? If there had been no foul play, it'd be in all parties' best interests that an investigation was conducted.

After all, even if it was all a huge coincidence, when bizarre events like this one happen, a serious organization zealing for the sport's integrity would always conduct an investigation, if only to make sure that there had been no foul play involved.

The Events of the Final Matchday of Group D

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Before the final match, Real Madrid had already won the group, having triumphed in all their five group stage matches. Ajax were in second place with eight points (and a goal difference of plus-3) and Lyon in third place with five points (and a goal difference of minus-4). The two teams had drawn against each other 0-0 in both matches, lost to Real Madrid and beaten Zagreb.

In the last day, Ajax only needed one point from their home fixture against Real Madrid to advance to the knockout stages. Lyon, on the other hand, needed Ajax to lose against the group leaders, to win at Zagreb and to reverse the extremely unfavorable goal difference.

Their chances were slim at best.

But, in a pretty bizarre turn of events, everything went Lyon's way.

In Amsterdam, Real Madrid scored the opener from an offside goal and Ajax had two perfectly clean goals disallowed, the second one in pretty mind-boggling fashion. In the second, they saw a legitimate penalty appeal turned down and eventually lost 3-0.

In Zagreb, things started pretty well for Lyonnais with Leko getting himself sent off in a matter of 18 minutes, in a harsh but ultimately acceptable decision. Even so, Lyon were struggling to assert their dominance and it was Zagreb who opened the score.

Lyon managed to equalizer through Gomis with a somewhat lucky goal in the last minute of the first half, but things still looked bleak for them. With Ajax 2-0 down, they would need at least five goals in the second half to advance, which looked pretty much impossible at that point.

But then it happened.

Lyon scored in the first minute of the second half, and then again, again and again. The French had only scored two goals in their first five Champions League matches and they suddenly scored seven in just 30 minutes.

Gomis scored the fastest hat trick in Champions League history and Lyon became the first side to score six goals in the first half of a Champions League match. As seen in the enclosed video, Dinamo's defense was downright shocking—Lyon were practically walking the ball into the net.

Lyon weren't even celebrating their goals and didn't seem particularly in a hurry, in what was a very bizarre (not to mention fishy) second half. It ended 7-1, but there was the clear sensation that, if needed, Lyon would have scored even more goals.

At the end of the day, Ajax found themselves eliminated from Europe's main competition in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

Ajax fans were raging all over the web and with very good reason: The events in both Amsterdam and Zagreb were incredibly suspect to say the least and required at least a thorough investigation.

Ajax and their fans have every reason to feel cheated out the Champions League. The lack of respect shown towards one of the greatest clubs in European football history was frankly shameful.

A picture of a Dinamo Zagreb's Dimagoj Vida winking to Gomis after one of the goals and of the same player leaving a betting shop (although the date of that picture isn't clear) raised even more suspicions, but were still not enough for any action to be taken.

The complicit media and fans

One would expect that, after such events, people would talk about the situation and raise the important questions, demanding an investigation. After all, the integrity and fairness of the sport should be the priority of everyone associated to football, right?


In the following days, all the talk and all the media headlines were either about the elimination of the two Manchester clubs or El Clásico. After all, those matters are infinitely more important than a possible case of corruption in the sport (another one).

The shady circumstances in which Lyon progressed were almost completely whitewashed by the fans and the media alike. Even the rare articles that addressed the situation didn't really raise any important questions or demand an investigation, only further whitewashing the whole affair.

While it is worrying, yet somewhat understandable, that the average football fan ignores/dismisses the situation (after all, it was "only" Lyon and Ajax), it's even more worrying the way the media addressed (or rather didn't address) the situation.

The job of the football media should be to always investigate and find out the truth (after all, they have the resources that the average football fan doesn't) and raise the necessary questions, and not to serve as a mouthpiece for the powers that be or say what the masses want to hear to increase sales/traffic.

But worryingly for football, the media these days seem more interested in appealing to the masses than investigating, discovering and revealing the truth.

Football journalism is in a dire state. Most people are aware that FIFA and UEFA aren't exactly the most honest organizations, yet every shady situation involving both organizations is duly whitewashed and the likes of Blatter and Platini remain free to do whatever they want, as they answer to nobody.

Everyone is also aware that corruption and match-fixing have been a stain in the sport for a long time.

Marseille's 1993 continental double was tainted by match-fixing; while they were allowed to keep their Champions League title, they were stripped of their Ligue 1 title and were relegated as a punishment.

Even more recently, cases of corruption have been proved in countries like Turkey and Portugal, yet such suspicious events in Europe's most important competition are completely ignored and no questions are raised.

Corruption remains a stain in the beautiful game, and the complicit media and fans are partly to blame for that. When the fair elimination of two English clubs is deemed more important than a case of possible corruption, you can't help but fear for the sport's future.

What actually happened in Zagreb and Amsterdam?

While most would agree that something wasn't quite right, it is impossible to know for sure what exactly happened (hence why a proper investigation was required). In all likelihood, we'll never know what exactly happened on that night in Zagreb and Amsterdam.

However, the few football fans who actually cared about the situation formulated some theories to explain what happened:

Some believe that the Zagreb match was fixed to make profits from bets. That theory was further strengthened by the picture of the Dinamo player leaving a betting shop (although, as mentioned before, the date of such picture isn't very clear) and the Dinamo player winking at Gomis.

But this theory seems conclusively scrapped by the fact that a French betting agency conducted an investigation and apparently didn't find any irregular betting patterns. Besides, this theory fails to take into account the events of the Ajax match.

Another theory is that Lyon bribed Dinamo, ala Spain vs. Malta in the 1984 Euro qualifiers. But this doesn't seem very plausible. Lyon would have to bribe Dinamo and the referees of the Ajax vs. Real Madrid game, it just doesn't look very feasible.

The most popular theory is that external forces (read: Platini) wanted Lyon to advance, at all costs. This theory does make sense, especially considering that UEFA and Platini haven't exactly earned a reputation among football fans for being honest and incapable of corruption.

This would explain why a Portuguese referee—one that was involved in the Apito Dourado, a huge corruption scandal in Portugal—was selected for the Ajax vs/ Real Madrid match.

That way, fans and the media would turn that game into a "Portugese referee helping Mourinho once again" story, as if Mourinho or Real Madrid, qualified since Matchday 4, had gained anything significant from that.

It'd also explain the favorable calls that Lyon got in Zagreb, the shocking way in which Dinamo's defense collapsed, the wink and Lyon's lack of celebration after scoring their goals. It'd also explain why Platini was so eager to sweep this under the rug and why UEFA opened no investigation.

One has to wonder: Wouldn't a serious, honest organization, under normal circumstances, want to make sure that their main competition was clean?

The theory that there was an agenda to help Lyon was further strengthened by the fact that just a day before another French team (Marseille) advanced in somewhat suspicious circumstances (not nearly as suspicious as Lyon's of course) and that Lyon were drawn against APOEL in the first knockout stage.

It only adds to the suspicions that, right after qualifying in extremely fishy circumstances, Lyon were drawn with the (at least on paper) weakest opponent possible in the first knockout stage.

Of course that it is also possible this was just one of the biggest coincidences in sports history and there was no foul play involved. But the cloud of suspicion will never disappear. Neither UEFA, nor the fans, nor the media seem interested in finding out the truth and we might never find out what exactly happened on that dark night in European football history.

The apathy and indifference towards cases like this, though, is a very worrying sign for the sport's future. There seems to be no interest in making the sport become as clean as possible and no one seems willing to ask the important questions.

In February, Lyon will play APOEL in the first knockout round of the Champions League, but one can't help but wonder if it shouldn't be Ajax there in their place. Unfortunately for the sport's credibility, that doubt might very well remain forever.

Lyon might very well be innocent, but perhaps unfairly for them, they won't be able to get rid of the suspicions unless a proper investigation is conducted. But we shouldn't hold our breath...

Disclaimer: This article is not an attack on Olympic Lyonnais or Dinamo Zagreb. They' are both great club and they're hopefully not at fault for anything. But, understandably, the fact that this situation happened and Lyon were the benefactors and Dinamo were defeated so copiously brings them to the spotlight for negative reasons. This article merely raises questions/possibilities, in no way does it accuse a certain party of foul play as the writer doesn't have enough evidence to explain what exactly happened. 

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