Is the Spanish league getting serious about match-fixing?

Word from Spain is the league (LFP) might actually be doing something. They've already set up a committee to study "suspicious" matches, and today they've indicated what those might be. Some will be familiar to Villarreal fans. Read on.

The maleta stuffed with cigars, alcohol, whatever has long been a part of Spanish football tradition, or at least Spanish football lore. But now rumors are circulating--and in some cases accusations have been made--that important matches in the top two divisions of Spanish football may have been fixed.

Of course, there will always be matches that are a "turnup for the book", but any observer of Spanish football over the past couple of seasons could probably pick out four or five matches where the result seemed suspicious.

In the past, these sorts of things have been overlooked. Remember a couple of years ago the chairman of the Herculés club was caught (via phone wiretap) offering bribes to other teams to ensure the Alicante club's promotion from the Segunda--but since the wiretaps were only authorized for the purpose of another investigation involving him, the court did nothing, and the league did nothing either (at the time there was nothing on the books making match-fixing illegal; now there is).

Now, maybe, the situation is changing. Javier Tebas, the new chairman of the LFP, has said he is serious about eradicating match-fixing, and already set up a panel to investigate suspicious games. Today word has surfaced about the matches under investigation.

One is of course Girona-Xerez last season (May 11) in the Segunda, when Xerez came to the Montilivi and won 4-2, and celebrated wildly afterward. (You can see the goals here, though the celebrations aren't shown). The visitors were already guaranteed to be relegated, and this was Xerez's first win in seven months. The situation is complicated, and there are conflicting numbers being thrown around, but apparently Girona goalkeeper Dani Mallo was approached by someone telling him if Girona paid a bunch of money to Xerez, the Catalans would be guaranteed three points. (Mallo has confirmed this took place).

In addition, Girona has said Racing representatives asked them (after the season was over) to state they had played ineligible players against Racing. You can watch Girona's President Boalas state this here.

Xerez didn't benefit from their win; Girona's promotion rivals Almería, Alcorcón, and Villarreal did. (Note that in the end Girona would have finished third and Almeria fourth if Girona had won this match). What is interesting is that immediately after the match Girona fumed that "someone" had paid Xerez a lot of money to perform. What a tangled web of events.

There are five other Segunda A matches under investigation. One is probably Hércules-Sabadell; Hércules won 3-1 but their own coach Quique Hernandez has accused Sabadell defender Abraham Paz of "selling himself" to ensure the result. Another should be a Racing-Hércules match the last day of the season (June 8); Racing won 3-0. No idea what the other three are at this point.

Now then. There are three Primera Division matches being investigated from this season, apparently, though it's rumored two from 2011-12 are under the microscope as well. Those two are (of course) Rayo-Granada--the game with the infamous last-minute goal that sent Villarreal down, need we say more? and Getafe-Zaragoza, also on the last weekend of the season. Getafe had three men sent off and of the two Zaragoza goals (they won 2-0), one was a penalty, one a stoppage-time score. Certainly enough to arouse suspicions. (The referee in this match was José Teixeira Vitienes, in case you are wondering after watching the highlights).

In 2012-13, the Levante-Deportivo match had already been identified as suspicious (April 13, Levante lose 0-4 to a poor Depor side at home) but two others, Zaragoza-Athletic Club (May 19, Athletic win 2-1 on road with two late goals) and Celta-Espanyol (June 1, 1-0 home win) are also under review.

One wonders what can be done--the 2011-12 matches conspired to send us down for sure, but we can't back up the reel and replay the past. As for 2012-13, what do you do? In the Segunda A, if you drop anyone else down, that favors Racing, a club who is among the accused.

For right now, all we know is that the Segunda A and Segunda B schedules are severely impacted. (The A schedule is out, but teams may still be replaced; the B schedule hasn't been released because depending on the makeup of the teams, clubs such as Villarreal's second team may switch regional leagues). Tebas has said he thinks the Segunda should shrink to 20 clubs, which seems sensible in the circumstances.

As for the Primera games in 2012-13, Depor and Zaragoza were relegated anyway; I cannot imagine anything would be done to Athletic Club, given their size and history, unless there is very strong evidence to implicate them, so Levante and Celta look to be the teams most under the microscope. We'll see.

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