Something of an own goal

Team incurs ridicule for alleged match-fixing efforts

Something of an own goal

"You idiots - I said 3-1"

One of the most memorable moments of the 1970 World Cup saw Pelé attempt to lob Czechoslovakia’s goalkeeper, Ivo Victor from the halfway line.

The Brazilian’s audacious effort only narrowly missed the Czech goal. Fast forward 39 years to China – and a match in Sichuan province that saw an equally audacious attempt on goal.

Fans were less impressed this time round, however, as footballer Li Ming was trying to lob his own keeper from the halfway line.

This sensational moment – captured on a video widely watched on website – has been widely discussed in recent weeks.

It occurred in a crazy final few minutes of a clash between Qingdao Hailifeng and Western Sichuan Chi Valley, in which Qingdao players made three attempts to score an own goal. Amusingly, they failed on each occasion.

Fans were initially puzzled by events, reports the Yangtze Evening Post, but soon began to boo. Next up from the stands were cries of match-fixing. How else to explain the antics? This particular match was a Division One game and saw Qingdao win 3-0, in spite of their efforts to score a goal on their opponents’ behalf. Speculation has centred on what motivated Qingdao’s desire to score an own goal so late in the game.

The turning point appears to have been the 85th minute, when a substitute came onto the field, having just taken a phone call. The Yangtze Evening Post quotes a member of Western Sichuan’s team who says he overheard Qingdao players frantically discussing how they needed “another goal, or else they would lose”.

In the ensuing action Qingdao threw its entire team forward in search of a legitimate fourth goal. But when it became evident that wasn’t going to happen, they switched to plan B. And tried to find their own net instead.

The Chongqing Evening News explains it as follows: a lot of money had been wagered on a result in which four or more goals were scored. That would explain the frenzied efforts to get a ‘fourth goal’ in the closing minutes. But when this looked unlikely to succeed, Qingdao players opted for any goal that they could manage.

The newspaper reckons match-fixing is common in Division One – the nation’s second highest league. It says club officials, coaches and players are all involved, and that participating footballers can earn from Rmb5,000 to Rmb20,000 per match. It cites the example of a southern Chinese team which had an operating income of Rmb50 million, of which Rmb20 million was used in the 2007 season exclusively for gambling on its own results. Apparently there is even a maxim: “Score enough in the first half, do match-fixing in the second.”

Evidently, this doesn’t always work out, as the recent Qingdao case would seem to indicate.

But the sums involved are unquestionably large. Gambling has been illegal in China since 1949 (although lottery tickets are allowed) but the underground industry is said to be worth $135 billion annually (see WiC24). Football betting is a major component.

Of course, match-fixing doesn’t only happen in China. In 1999, a gambling syndicate from Malaysia tried to sabotage Charlton Athletic’s floodlights to fix an English Premier League result.

But Qingdao’s efforts look to be particularly brazen. As with most things in China, it is probably going on at a much larger scale.

Unhappily, the Football Association – which has watched video of the game – then decided it probably wouldn’t be able to punish any of the players. A jail sentence can only be handed out for situations deemed ‘abnormal’, but since no own goals were actually scored, the evidence is thought to be insufficient to make a case, reports Sports Weekly.

So although Qingdao’s ineptitude may have led to its players missing out on a pay day, it seems to mean that they will avoid further censure too.

Keeping track: the e two ex-heads of China’s football league have been jailed for 10-and-a-half years. Nan Yong and his predecessor Xie Yalong were accused of taking bribes (something WiC has reported on quite a bit, see issue 31) Jun 15, 2012

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