FIFA probes Argentina’s thrashing in Nigeria

FIFA and Nigeria’s soccer federation are investigating

Argentina’s 4-1 loss in Nigeria on Wednesday after betting patterns

suggested it was targeted by match fixers.

It is the highest profile match yet in a wave of suspicious

recent international exhibitions, often with goals scored from

penalty kicks.

The match ”was one that we had an active interest in, and forms

part of a wider ongoing FIFA investigation,” soccer’s world

governing body said Saturday.

FIFA was ”working closely” with its betting monitoring agency,

Early Warning System, which tracks wagers placed with more than 400

operators worldwide.

A second-string Argentina team was outplayed by Nigeria, which

earned its first victory over the South Americans in a one-sided

match.

The Nigeria Football Federation, which organized the match, said

it would help FIFA’s investigation and also set up its own inquiry,

but denied any knowledge of match fixing, stressing it was

”unaware of any suspicious motives in this game.”

”We will put all these measures (the inquiry) in place in the

spirit of fair play and transparency,” NFF General Secretary Musa

Amadu said in a statement. ”But we would still insist that, until

it is proven beyond doubt, we believe that we won this match fair

and square … There remains, to the best of our knowledge, no

untoward motives to this game than to play it fairly and win it

fairly.”

Argentina coach Sergio Batista, talking Saturday at a press

conference in Warsaw ahead of his team’s exhibition against Poland

on Sunday, said he ”did not notice anything alarming” during the

Nigeria match.

Hours before kick-off at the National Stadium in Abuja on

Wednesday, FIFA President Sepp Blatter launched his ”Zero

Tolerance” campaign to stop corruption in soccer.

FIFA’s 208 member nations in Zurich also passed new rules to

control the organization of international matches, including the

power to veto referee appointments.

Referee Ibrahim Chaibou of Niger awarded two penalties – one to

each side – in Wednesday’s game between two teams who played each

other at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Nigeria took a 2-0 lead with a 26th minute spot-kick after

Chaibou awarded a foul against Argentina defender Federico

Fazio.

Five minutes of stoppage time were announced at the end of the

match, with play continuing until the 98th minute, when Argentina

scored with a penalty kick from Mauro Boselli.

Argentina’s spot kick was awarded by Chaibou for a debatable

handball after the ball appeared to strike a Nigerian defender on

the shin and then bounce up and hit a teammate on the thigh.

Argentina fielded a below-strength lineup without star forwards

such as Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria.

However, there was no suggestion that players from either team

were involved in manipulating the match.

Chaibou is one of the most experienced FIFA-approved referees

with 15 years’ service on the international list. He was born in

1966 and must step down this year on reaching FIFA’s referee age

limit of 45.

As match-fixing investigations develop across the world, FIFA

announced last month it would pay Interpol $29 million over the

next 10 years to educate referees, players, coaches and officials

in how to resist corruption.

”FIFA is currently receiving lots of information and

cooperation across Europe, Asia, Africa and South and Central

America, and as an organization we are committed to tackling this

problem in the most vigorous way possible,” the governing body

said.