Match fixing, as FIFA will tell you, carries a very serious penalty if exposed. Down the years there are instances of players and even referees banned for trying to arrange the result of a match. But what happens if both teams agree a result beforehand?
In 1978 hosts Argentina had received rather favourable scheduling for their fixtures throughout the tournament. For each of their group matches they kicked off in the evening, after the other fixture had been played, giving them the advantage of knowing what they needed to do. When they progressed through to the Second Phase, another group format, they again kicked off after the other fixture. In this tournament there were no Semi-Finals so the winners of each Second Phase group would play each other in the Final. Argentina had been drawn in the same group as Brazil and both countries won their opening game of the group, then played out a goalless draw in Rosario. Brazil then beat Poland leaving Argentina, who kicked off three hours later, the luxury of knowing how many goals they needed to win by. Argentina was also fortunate to be playing Peru in their final match, rather than Poland, the other nation in the group. Brazil’s 3-1 win over Poland meant Argentina needed to win by 4 clear goals.
The significance of Peru as their opponents should not be underestimated. Often considered a minnow in the continent, Peru was also under a military dictatorship much as Argentina was. During those days it was common for leaders to send political dissidents to other countries for torture. Peru had requested Argentina accept a group of 13 prisoners and the Argentine rulers struck a bargain by agreeing to accept the group on condition Peru throw the World Cup match. The Argentine dictatorship had tried everything to portray the country in a good light and winning the World Cup, the believed, would go a long way towards international acceptance.
One other factor in their favour was the Peruvian goalkeeper mentioned earlier in this piece, Ramon Quiroga, who was born in Rosario, which was the venue for the fateful match. Peru had been a revelation during the competition, winning their group by beating Scotland and Iran and holding the Dutch to a goalless draw. But defeats in the Second Phase to Brazil and Poland gave them nothing more to play for. Quiroga had been one of the characters of the competition and they were expected to prove stiff opposition.
Peru were 0-2 down at half-time and had hit the post themselves, but rumours of Argentine officials entering the away dressing room at half-time would seem to be founded as within 27 minutes of the second half, Argentina had scored another four times to give them the winning margin they required.
Quiroga was ostrasiced in his own country, despite his protestations and both countries had always denied any skulduggery. But recent testimony from a Peruvian senator confirmed the deal had been done. Argentina went on to beat Netherlands 3-1 in the Final to claim their first World Cup win.
Fast forward to 1982 and another notorious occasion took place at Gijon in Spain. West Germany and Austria were the perpetrators. Austria had been in fine form with victories over Chile and Algeria, but the Germans had been humbled by Algeria but bounced back to beat Chile. As with every other World Cup up to this one, the final group fixture kicked off after every other one had been completed. Algeria’s win over Chile the day before gave the Germans a simple scenario – win the game and they were through. The Austrians had already booked their place in the Second Phase so they had little to play for other than, as everyone including the Algerians hoped, winning bragging rights against their neighbours.
Ten minutes in, Horst Hrubesch whose goals against Belgium had won the Germans the European Championship two years previously, put his side in front. From there the game was over as a contest. Both teams played out a disgraceful non-contest for the remaining 80 minutes to a chorus of boos from the watching crowd. It was a blatant example of both teams ‘arranging’ the result as a 1-0 win for the Germans suited both sides. The Algerians could do nothing other than watch in disbelief. The Germans went through and even made it to the Final, losing to Italy. For the Austrians, this meant they finished second in the group and were into the next phase in a group with the rapidly improving French. The Germans, not only got the result they wanted, but obviously felt meeting England and Spain in the next round would give them a better chance of progressing than the group the Austrians ended up with. The Austrians failed to win another match and had to sit and watch the Germans make the Final. Whether that justified keeping their neighbours sweet was a mute point.
FIFA was outraged and changed their own rules to ensure final fixtures in each group stage kicked off at the same time to deny any side an unfair advantage.