11 December ~ So UEFA do not feel that it is necessary to open an inquiry into Wednesday's Dinamo Zagreb v Lyon game in the Champions League. As they are, or should be, the guardians of the integrity of the European game, this is an inexplicable stance. Italy's leading sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport called it "a farce" and declined to award the game any stars for entertainment, which shows what they think. Let's look at the facts for a moment. Even allowing for the fact that Zagreb were playing with ten men, what happened was surely almost without precedent. As Lyon's first goal came in first-half stoppage time and their seventh after 75 minutes, they effectively scored seven goals in the space of 30 minutes.

Since the start of European club football in 1955, has that ever happened before? So many goals in so few minutes should only happen in absurd mismatches like Arbroath v Bon Accord (36-0), Australia v American Samoa (31-0) or Preston v Hyde (26-0). A Champions League group game should not be an absurd mismatch.

It becomes even more difficult to pass it off as "one of those things" when you realise that Lyon's seven goals in 30 minutes followed just two in their previous 495 minutes of Champions League play. We all know that football is unpredictable and illogical, which is partly why we love it, but there are limits.

UEFA seem to think that their stance is justified because they haven't detected any anomalous betting patterns, but surely it is disingenuous to think that betting is the only way in which a game can be manipulated. UEFA should be deeply suspicious of the Zagreb-Lyon game. Perhaps they should also have some doubts about the late qualifications of Marseille in Dortmund and CSKA Moscow in Milan.

It is always possible that an inquiry will show there was no wrongdoing, but to now even hold one seems a dereliction of duty. Considering that Ajax and Lyon could not be separated on a head-to-head basis as both their games finished 0-0, maybe it is time to reintroduce a one off play-off on a neutral ground to cover that specific case and allay any doubts. There is plenty of time in the two month interval before the knock-out stages begin.

It may not have any direct bearing on what happened on Wednesday, but UEFA should also be concerned that in three groups the bottom team failed to take a point. I once saw a game in which a team won 7-1 after going behind in the second half, so it can happen. But Woking v Clapton in the Isthmian League in December 1957 isn't quite the same as what happened in Zagreb on Wednesday. Geoff Bradford

Comments (29)
Comment by benfrost 2011-12-11 10:16:37

The Lyon game did look suspect - but aren't both the things you raise here (one sided games, plus teams getting zero points in the group stage) both related to the recent changes to admission rules?

I think its no bad thing that champions from smaller countries now get easier access to the Champions League. But it does mean (at least for the time being) that there are teams who are out of their depth. For every APOEL there is a Dinamo Zagreb - a poor side who would struggle against half decent teams in the Europa League, let alone in a group with Lyon, Ajax and Real Madrid.

Comment by geobra 2011-12-11 10:46:28

Croatia is a small country (population 4.3 million) but then so is Uruguay. And like Uruguay it has a history of punching above its weight in football (ask Steve McLaren!) So its champions should not be mere sparring partners.

Their first three defeats - 1-0 (against Real), 2-0 and 2-0 - appear to confirm this. The last three - 4-0, 6-2 and 7-1 - suggest otherwise.

The game against Lyon is suspect not just for the score, but for the manner in which the goals were scored. It's not difficult for good strikers to find the back of the net if they meet no opposition from the defenders who are supposed to try to stop them.

Comment by geobra 2011-12-11 11:04:02

And that's without mentioning the notorious 'wink'.

Comment by jameswba 2011-12-11 12:54:40

It looks bad for sure but without 'suspicious betting patterns', surely all evidence, including the fact that Zagreb appear to have 'form' in this regard and the infamous wink, is going to be circumstantial. What would an inquiry achieve? No'one's going to admit anything.

The problem with the group stages is, as you suggest, the number of sides with nothing to play for going into the last round (or even two) of matches. Besides Dinamo, the non-performances of Villareal and Bayern Munich against Napoli and Man City should be cause for concern, as should Inter Milan's late defeat to CSKA Moscow, which allowed the Russians through. I know you can suggest this sort of thing about any league competition but it's disproportionately true of European group stages. Something needs to change and your idea of one-off play-offs between sides who finish level would be at least some improvement

But I can assure you that Champions League mismatches do indeed happen. I'm a season-ticket holder at MSK Zilina in Slovakia, and we lost 0-7 at home to Marseille last season. The first four goals came in the first 30 mins and it was 0-7 just after the hour. Marseille didn't ease up excatly after that, they just became careless with their finishing. But I'd have to go right down to youth football to remember a more one-sided game.

Comment by erwin 2011-12-11 15:02:20

I have to challenge you on one point, jameswba:

"It looks bad for sure but without 'suspicious betting patterns', surely all evidence [...] is going to be circumstantial."

I'm not sure how the authorities can be so adamant about these 'suspicious betting patterns'. I mean, is it so outlandish to imagine that some black market, under the radar and unregistered betting might have gone on? (See for example Guy Ritchie's film 'Snatch' which, although obviously not a documentary, does illustrate some shady practices that could well be feasible.)

Comment by jameswba 2011-12-11 15:41:50

Erwin, your suggestion is not outlandish at all - but the 'under the radar', 'unregistered' nature of such betting would surely make it all the harder to uncover. Certainly, I'd have little faith in the UEFA inquiry proposed by Mr Bradford uncovering it.

It's also possible (though I think unlikely) that it could all have been orchestrated for other than betting reasons (ie to get Lyon through). But if that is the case, anything other than circumstantial evidence will be difficult to come by 'cause no'one's going to admit anything.

I don't like the thought but I suspect this match is just going to remain shrouded in suspicion.

Comment by geobra 2011-12-11 18:20:04

@ jameswba

Sure, there are mismatches. As early as 1956 Manchester United beat Anderlecht, no less, 10-0.

But you have to consider the context. For instance, when Marseille beat MSK Zilina 7-0, was it exactly the result they needed, or did it come about just because they were vastly superior? The problem with the Zagreb result is the fact that it was the only way Lyon could qualify.

As for any inquiry, I agree that it would be extremely unlikely to produce any proof, but I still think that UEFA should be seen to be doing something, otherwise teams will think they can get away with anything. Even an inconclusive inquiry might make a few people think twice, which would be better than nothing.

I'm wondering whether it wouldn't be better to have 16 2-leg games pitting seeded against non-seeded sides and then a group stage of 16 to decide the quarter-finalists. This would mean effectively bringing forward what are now the last 16 knock-out games and ought to guarantee more evenly-matched groups and more interesting games. But of course it would bring in less money, so it won't happen.

Comment by jameswba 2011-12-11 19:57:06

Geobra, Zilina 0 Marseille 7 was in the 4th round of games so no the scoreline wasn't as decisive as in the Zagreb case. Marseille ensured their progress to the last 16 in their following game when a 3-0 win in Moscow against Spartak meant that they would have the better of that head-to-head and so would finish 2nd. The final round of matches thus left no scope for suspicion but were utterly meaningless - hence my problem with group stages per se!

That said, I still see the Zilina game as relevant to my other argument, that the Zagreb-Lyon result could be genuine, because it showed what can happen when an underdog gets every single aspect of its preparation and performance wrong. The Zilina camp said stupid things in the pre-match interviews, their team selection was incomprehensible and their tactics naive. Add to that several basic individual mistakes on the pitch and a Marseille team very much 'up for it' and you have the recipe for a slaughter. I'm inclined, only by a margin of about 55-45 mind you, to believe something similar happened to Zagreb.

I see what you're saying about the inquiry, though I wonder where you'd stop. Is there a certain margin of victory above which you'd automatically start investigating? Because as I said above, the outcome of other groups might make you wonder, even if the scorelines weren't so spectacular.

Comment by drew_whitworth 2011-12-11 20:33:57

In 1976 Brighton beat, I think, Walsall 7-0 after it was 0-0 at half time. Didn't Leyton Orient win 8-1 in the Cup last year - in extra time? It can happen.

Comment by Coral 2011-12-11 20:55:17

Just a couple of musings on this. Firstly, the French FA did investigate it and found nothing untoward. I know it was not a full investigation having said that. Also it is a hard one for the "underworld" to sort out because they also had to ensure to result of the other group game as well.

Aside from all that, if we are saying how suspicous it is and people are saying look at how outrageous it is, surely someone must have said "hang on boys, this is going to stand out like a sore thumb and end up in us not only getting kicked out, but for a large amount of time". I just don't think anyone could really be that stupid, if they are clever enough to arrange all this and ensure even a cursory investigation turned up nothing.

Comment by geobra 2011-12-11 21:18:03

The daddy of them all was surely on December 21st 1957, coincidentally the same day that i saw Woking score 7 second half goals against Clapton. Ten-man Charlton were 5-1 down at home to Huddersfield with 25 minutes to go and ran out 7-6 winners, with the left-footed Johnny Summers scoring 5 with his right foot. There's never been a game like it, and I shouldn't think there ever will be again.

I'd argue, though, that there's a difference between a team relaxing because they think the game's won (if that's what Huddersfield did) and a team switching off in order to allow their opponents to win (if that's what Dinamo Zagreb did).

Coral, your last point is interesting, but it is also true that human beings often do behave very stupidly and irrationally.

Comment by Hampden Diehard 2011-12-11 22:41:56

I've lost count of the times I've heard it said that some English sides don't want to be in the Europa League and that they aren't trying to progress in case it interferes with their Premiership campaign. Spurs being a perfect example in recent years. Putting out weakened sides isn't much different from not trying a leg. Both shaft the paying public.

Comment by Craig van Fostinho 2011-12-12 07:25:07

The mighty Reading went in 0-0 at half time, at home, against Bristol Rovers in 98-9. Full time - 0-6.

Only if Ellory Kromheer and Peter van der Kwak were playing for Dinamo Zagreb was the 1-7 score possible. Sadly those two golden greats probably, hopefully, hung up their slicing boots many a moon ago.

Comment by Coral 2011-12-12 10:17:42

geobra, I know that people do do stupid things, but that is why I say if they are clever enough to go through all this without having anyone draw attention to it officially and for them to avoid people getting wind and betting on it, they have to have an ounce of awareness. That said, sillier things have happened.

Comment by ingoldale 2011-12-12 10:20:41

My team, Grimsby Town, have won 7-1 v Mansfield and 7-0 v Stockport this year. Does that mean we should opening an inquiry into those results as well? No, the simple fact is we played them off the park. In this same regard Lyons should be applauded for going gung ho and playing attacking football when a result at the death was required. To suggest that Dortmund v Marseilles and CSKA v Inter were thrown as well is outrageous. Where will the accusations stop if we go down this road?

Comment by Lincoln 2011-12-12 10:52:30

I remember we got stuffed by Grimsby 5-1, that was because we were terrible more than some dodgy scam. I suppose that is the danger of corruption and the associated betting. Eventually there will come a time when people doubt these dramatic scorelines, as has happened in Italy already this year. We start to see previously comedy defending as cynical. It is then that football will begin to expire, this article could be the beggining of that. The only evidence here is the scoreline, in fact there is strong evidence to the contary, that nothing is wrong, which has been aknowledged and then dismissed in favour of the scoreline. I worry that a tipping point is in sight.

Comment by geobra 2011-12-12 13:28:48

@ jameswba

Dinamo Zagreb v Lyon will take its place alongside games like Argentina v Peru (WC 78), West Germany v Austria (WC 1982) and Sweden v Denmark (Euro 2004) where we think we 'know' what happened but it'll never be proved.

@ Hampden Diehard

There's talk of scrapping the Europa League and having one competition with 16 4-team groups. There'll be no hiding place for the likes of Spurs then.

@ ingoldale

7-0 and 7-1 wins in the early stages of a 46-game championship are not the same as a 7-1 win in the last game of a 4-team group. And there's nothing outrageous in being suspicious when there are ongoing corruption enquiries in Greece, Italy and Turkey ('the usual suspects') but also in Finland, Germany and Switzerland, not to mention the perennially suspect championships in many former Soviet Bloc countries.

@ Lincoln

I think you attribute too much power to the writer of this article! Try reading Declan Hill's 'The Fix'. In any case, there's nothing new in all this. In 1966, 'France Football' claimed that England's World Cup win was orchestrated by FIFA President Sir Stanley Rous. First Portugal kicked Pele and Brazil out of the cup under the eyes of an English referee who took no action to stop the butchery, then Stiles's crippling foul on the French midfielder Simon went unpunished, followed by Rattin's sending off in the quarter final against England and Geoff Hurst's 'goal / non goal' in the final'. At the time I thought it was sour grapes and the worst kind of conspiracy theory. And now? Who knows?

Plus ça change

Comment by jameswba 2011-12-12 13:49:19

Geobra, largely agree with your point to me above. I don't 'think I know' exactly, I just treat the result with a certain unease.

I do think Lincoln makes one excellent point, when he talks about the cynicism with which some outcomes are greeted. Here in Slovakia, the domestic league is treated with a mixture of apathy and contempt for precisely that reason - most observers think the main championship, promotion and relegation issues are decided elsewhere than on the pitch. Nothing has been proved yet, but the perception remains. The fact that crowds of more than 3,000 are rare, even at the top clubs, while some clubs struggle to get as many as a 1,000 is testament to its power. After all, why pay to watch something you think is a charade?

Comment by jertzeeAFCW 2011-12-12 13:55:07

I wouldn't look at betting stats.

I would look at how much debt have Zagreb got, and how "fit and proper" is the owner of Lyon.

Now I don't know the answer to either question but if the answers are akin to "lots" and "makes Thaksin Shinawatra look like Mother Theresa" then I think you have your answer.

No bets needed.

Comment by geobra 2011-12-12 15:18:36

@ jameswba

Of course Lincoln is right. I hate being suspicious of strange scorelines, goalkeeping errors and missed open goals, but I can't shut my eyes to reality. If I'm becoming ever more cynical, there is a reason for it.

In any case, it's not just football. Take this summer's first test v Sri Lanka, in which England bowled their opponents out for very few in no time. Did nobody raise a suspicious eyebrow? I did, and the reason is simple - we now know that there is a lot of corruption in cricket, and when something very unusual and unpredictable happens, it's difficult if not impossible not to have one's doubts.

The credibility of sport depends on its main actors - players, coaches, club owners and referees - being above suspicion. The vast majority are, I imagine, but a minority aren't and they are the ones who are responsible for the perceptions many of us now have and will continue to have unless and until things change for the better.

Comment by ingoldale 2011-12-12 16:09:07

@geobra The 7-1 v Mansfield was on 1st January - well into the season - and the Stockport game was the 22nd league match of the season, that's nearly the half way point. York, also recenlty won 7-0 in the Conference.

@jertzeeAFCW Living in France, and having previous attended Lyon games, I'm prett sure J-M Aulas, the Lyons chairman, is not a suspect figure.

People are also citing that Dinamo are from a suspicious part of Europe, in terms of thrown matches. They are also from continental Europe, an area equally notorious for having the odd team that simply throw the towel when all is seemingly lost rather than playing until the death.

Comment by geobra 2011-12-12 16:44:29

@ ingoldale

Sorry. I thought both games were in the same season. My mistake. But I stick to my point!

Comment by JimDavis 2011-12-12 17:57:05

As it is only Monday, if we start the inquiry now, it should be finished in time for the compilers to then watch 'arry's Spurs get done over in Dublin in a match that is of no use to Spurs, but which Shamrock Rovers' players could dine out on for years.

Comment by Coral 2011-12-13 09:44:59

Ipswich won 5-2 on Saturday after being 2-0 down at half time. They had lost 8 on the bounce and the odds of Barnsley winning were 21/20 before the game started. Now, as has been highlighted, I don't need any facts what so ever, just a scoreline and how suitable the outcome is. Therefore would it be fair for me to say it is fixed because not only do we have the score, and the convenience as evidence we complete the holy trinity by the winning team having a billionaire owner and Barnsely once having been in administration.

I see from Lincoln now how corrosive this thinking is.

Comment by jameswba 2011-12-13 11:05:24

Coral, My feeling about that result at Oakwell is that anyone who couldn't see it as part of the beautiful unpredictability of football should give up on the game forthwith (I make an exception for Barnsley fans of course).

But there are acres of middle ground between being maintaining at an innocent wonder at all bizarre scorelines and treating them all with cynicism and suspicion.

Comment by geobra 2011-12-13 11:14:35

It should perhaps be pointed out that to reach the group stage of the CL Dinamo Zagreb came through three qualifying rounds, the last against Malmo, who may not be a great European power but are far from negligible opposition. This makes one think that Dinamo Zagreb are actually not such a weak side as some have suggested and should not have capitulated so abjectly against Lyon.

Comment by geobra 2011-12-13 11:45:14

@ jameswba

Your second paragraph is spot on. I would merely add that I still believe that the vast majority of the games that I see, even those with unusual scorelines, are not suspect. If it were not so, I wouldn't waste my time going to matches any more.

But a few games raise doubts, and it is almost a year to the day since my suspicions were aroused by strange goings-on in an obscure Serie B match between AlbinoLeffe and Piacenza. Nothing that has happened in the last year has altered my opinion that I was right to be suspicious.

We fans should be demanding that the authorities make more effort to stop the wrongdoings that are putting the future of the game at risk. We certainly shouldn't be blaming the 'messenger' who points them out.

Comment by kiwipuskas 2011-12-14 08:53:22

I can recall my team, Lincoln City, beating Luton 8-1 at a time when the Imps were rock-bottom of Division Four. David Coleman in the BBC studios was so surprised by the scoreline that he told viewers they would get it checked. Today, the Luton team might be under suspicion.

Comment by geobra 2011-12-15 13:38:19

How many goals have Dinamo Zagreb conceded in 17 Croatian league games, or, if you prefer, 1530 minutes of league action? Would you believe it, 7!!

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