SYDNEY: Fears of match-fixing will lurk in the background at the Asian Cup as the stain of corruption proves hard to shift despite efforts to clean up football.
While most attention will focus on the big matches in Australia, games between smaller teams will also be under scrutiny for potential manipulation by illicit betting rings.
Swiss-based Sportradar, which has a partnership with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), will monitor for unusual betting patterns once the tournament starts on Thursday.
Smaller teams, where players are usually paid less, are considered more vulnerable to match-fixers who may offer them bribes to throw a match.
"Any time you have meaningless matches, pool games where the result means nothing, or teams where the players are poorly rewarded... there is a risk," said betting industry expert Scott Ferguson.
Match-fixing, along with doping, is one of the biggest threats to the integrity of sport and is fuelled by a multi-billion dollar illegal betting industry.
A crackdown on several fronts has yielded results, with scandals uncovered in Australia and England and a leading suspect now detained for more than a year in Singapore.
But incidents persist, creating the damaging perception that any unusual results – especially in hotspot Asia – have been manipulated.
Last month, Vietnamese football officials raised concerns about their own national team after their AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final loss to Malaysia. No suspicious betting patterns were detected.
And in November, Saudi club Al Hilal cried foul over their AFC Champions League final defeat to Western Sydney Wanderers after a string of penalty appeals were waved away.
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