Fifa is investigating a match between Nigeria and Argentina on Wednesday night, which Nigeria won 4-1, after unusual betting patterns indicated it had been targeted by match-fixers. A Fifa spokesman said: “Fifa can confirm that this match between Nigeria and Argentina was one that we had an active interest in, and forms part of a wider ongoing Fifa investigation." The revelation that such a high-profile game is under suspicion underlines the warnings about the speed with which match-fixing is spreading through world football.
Sepp Blatter, re-elected last week as Fifa president, has pledged a “zero-tolerance” approach to what he called the “plague” of match-fixing.
Six players from Premier League clubs were involved in the fixture as well as players from the top divisions in Italy, Spain and Holland.
Argentina, captained by Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta, took an under-strength team to Abuja for Wednesday’s friendly, as part of their preparation for the Copa America and were beaten 4-1.
Victor Obinna, recently of West Ham, was among the Nigerian goal-scorers.
John Obi Mikel, of Chelsea, and Everton's Victor Anichebe were also part of the Nigeria squad. Mauro Boselli (Wigan), Mauro Formica (Blackburn) and Damián Martínez (Arsenal) were in the Argentina squad. It is understood that no players are under suspicion.
Serious concerns, though, were raised about betting patterns during the game, specifically before the final goal was scored.
With Nigeria leading 4-0 there was a huge swing on some in-play gambling markets which appeared to anticipate a fifth goal.
With 90 minutes played referee Ibrahim Chaibou awarded five minutes of stoppage time but let play carry on until, in the eighth minute of additional play, he signalled a handball against Nigeria, awarding a penalty to Argentina.
Replays indicated the ball had hit one Nigerian player’s shin and diverted to another player, whom it hit in the stomach. The whistle appears to have been blown immediately after the ball hit the first player. Mauro Boselli, of Wigan, converted the penalty.
“There had been some crazy moves on the in-running market early in the game,” said Matthew Benham of SmartOdds, an online betting firm.
“With 86 minutes played the odds for 4.50 [a fifth goal to be scored] were absolutely insane.
"The market was effectively saying it was odds against that there would be no more goals.
"It is hard to get an exact figure for how much would have been bet to force that kind of swing but we are certainly talking hundreds of thousands, possibly more than £1,000,000.”
Fifa is assembling as much data as it can about the game and confirmed that it “will be working closely with colleagues at the Fifa Early Warning System” to see the unusual fluctuations in betting patterns and how they tally with its wider investigation.
The referee involved, Chaibou, of Niger, was in charge of the Sept 7 friendly between Bahrain and a ‘fake’ Togo team, another game under Fifa investigation.
That match was organised by Wilson Raj Perumal, a convicted match-fixer who is facing trial in a Lapland court after being charged with bribing players to fix games in the Finnish league. Telegraph Sport attempted to contact Chaibou last night but calls were not returned.
Telegraph Sport revealed last month that Perumal had been operating from a London flat near Wembley Stadium after skipping bail in Singapore. He has 13 convictions, for forgery, burglary, assault and match-fixing dating back to 1983. He was arrested in Finland in February.
“Fifa is currently receiving lots of information and co-operation across Europe, Asia, Africa and South and Central America, and as an organisation we are committed to tackling this problem in the most vigorous way possible,” said a Fifa spokesman.
“This can be best demonstrated by the recent announcement last month by the Fifa president that Fifa will donate $20 million over the next 10 years to Interpol as part of an unprecedented initiative target illegal and irregular betting and match-fixing.”
Fresh revelations about alleged match-fixing are breaking by the day.
In Italy, following a six-month investigation, 16 people have been arrested by Cremona police on suspicion of match-fixing, including former international Beppe Signori. It is alleged players had their drinks spiked to inhibit their performance as the betting ring staked hundreds of thousands of euros on games in Italy’s top three divisions.
And in Korea, six players and two bookmakers have been arrested on suspicion of match-fixing in the K-League, the oldest professional football league in Asia. Another player implicated in the scandal was found dead last week.