Bahrain's national soccer team felt pretty good about its easy 3-0 win last week over the national team from Togo. The match was more lopsided than the score indicates; they scored eight times but five of the goals were disallowed as a result of offside decisions described as "questionable."
I really have no idea what that means, but the point is that Bahrain easily defeated their opponents. Very easily. So easily, in fact, that it was almost as if the other guys had never played soccer before.
Suspicions are growing that they may not have.
Officials are concerned that the group purporting to be the Togolese national team may just have been a bunch of guys paid to pose as the Togolese national team, in a scam organized by a betting syndicate in order to fix the outcome of the match. The concern appears to stem from two pieces of evidence. First, the agent who arranged the match has already spent time in jail for fixing soccer matches, and is currently under investigation for allegedly taking a fake "Zimbabwean national team" to Malaysia. Second, the "Togolese national team" was really, really bad.
The Daily Telegraph reported that "[a]ccording to fans who attended last week's game at Bahrain's national stadium, the Togolese looked tired and spent much of the match falling over or diving." Bahrain's coach, an Austrian who formerly managed that country's national team, agreed. "They were not fit enough to play 90 minutes," said Josef Hickersberger. "The game was very boring." A local sports reporter said he was astonished by the team's "laid-back approach," and that they did not even have a list of team members for reporters to use. "[T]here was one guy who just wrote down the names," he said. "Nobody had heard of any of them. . . . Every five minutes they were diving and falling, saying they were injured."
It is not entirely clear yet that these were just some guys who were rounded up and told to pose as a national team in order to fix the match. Togo's actual team has had serious problems lately, including a terrorist attack on its team bus in January. But traumatic as that may have been, it wouldn't explain the inability of whoever showed up in Bahrain to even play a full 90 minutes. FIFA, the governing body for the sport that the world still insists on calling "football," said it had not yet received any complaints and so had not opened an investigation. But the Togolese Football Association has said it knew nothing about the match, that it did not send a team to Bahrain, and that it is trying to track down the players on the fake team.
On the other hand, if my team got beat that badly, I might try to suggest they were a bunch of impostors, too.