This might be a great book. There's a lot of fascinating information in the first two sections about how Asian gambling syndicates have dug their clawThis might be a great book. There's a lot of fascinating information in the first two sections about how Asian gambling syndicates have dug their claws into soccer around the world, and at the highest levels.
The problem is that the big climax is about four supposedly fixed games at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and there are enough niggling questions about them that it makes me doubt the rest of the book.
The biggest one, right off the bat. The fixer that Hill is observing is named Lee Chin (not his real name). Chin had supposedly worked with a U-17 coach to pay off members of the Ghanaian team. A quote:
"Then, on June 12 came Italy vs. Ghana. It was one of the matches that Chin claimed might be fixed. He had that the corrupt members of the squad would give up two games in the tournament. For the Italy game, the aim was to beat the spread. Italy was to win by two clear goals."
Those four sentences immediately made me doubt the veracity of his story. Before Ghana played its first game in 2006, Hill is saying that his fixer had already said they would throw two games, each by the two goals needed to cover the spread. Hill then points out that Ghana lost those two games -- 2-0 to Italy on June 12 and 3-0 to Brazil on June 27.
However, there is a huge problem that anyone who remembers the 2006 World Cup should immediately spot. Hill is claiming, in an award-winning book, that Ghana agreed to lose the opening match of a very tough group by two goals, yet were still guaranteeing that they would make the knockout round, where they would throw a second game.
When they did lose 2-0 to Italy, they were in massive trouble in the group. The Czech Republic had already routed the US 3-0, so Ghana to have any chance of advancing, they were going to have to beat the Czech Republic -- one of the highest-rated teams in the tournament -- and beat the United States *and* hope the Czechs didn't beat Italy. That was hardly a guaranteed outcome, yet the fixers had already reached a deal to pay them for a Round-of-16 loss?
Ghana did their part at the start, losing 2-0 to Italy. One of the things that Hill stresses in multiple books is that teams throwing games are told to give up goals early to avoid things looking suspicious at the end. Italy had a lot of scoring chances, but (and this is never mentioned in Hill's story about the game) didn't score their second goal, the one needed to cover the spread, until the 83rd minute.
Ghana then beat the Czech Republic 2-0, while the US and Italy drew 1-1 in an upset that the fixers didn't control. If Italy had won that game (and they easily could have), Ghana would have needed a big win over the US to be sure of advancing.
As it turned out, Italy beat the Czechs 2-0, so Ghana just needed a win over the US, and they got it ... but only barely. Playing without two key players, Sulley Muntari and Asamoah Gyan (suspended for two yellow cards in the first two matches), Ghana crippled Claudio Reyna early in the game, scored on another foul on Reyna, gave up an equalizer, took the lead on a phantom penalty, and were extremely lucky when the US missed some great chances.
So, Ghana did sneak into the second round, and then they broke Hill's heart by losing 3-0 to Brazil in the round-of-16. As in the Italy game, Ghana was terrible. It's quite possible that they had agreed to throw that game, but the idea that they could have guaranteed playing it is ridiculous.
There are other, smaller faults in the World-Cup section. While Hill is staying near the Ghanaian team (June 21-27), he is so impressed by them that he wonders if Chin hasn't changed his attention to fixing a different match. While talking about the financial issues surrounding the Togo team and their FA, Hill wonders if maybe the fix has been switched: "Togo had a game against South Korea coming up."
The Togo-South Korea game wasn't coming up - it had been played more than a week earlier, on June 13. Togo led 1-0 at halftime and, while they did lose 2-1, they covered the apparently constant two-goal spread.
He also reports that Chin told him that other groups of fixers had bought off Ecuador in their round-of-16 game against England, but the bet failed when England only won 1-0. Ecuador really screwed up if they were supposed to lose by two goals, since Ashley Cole's diving deflection was the only reason they weren't winning before David Beckham's FK in the 60th minute.
The fourth game that was supposedly fixed was Ukraine vs. Italy in the quarterfinals. This time, the betting line was "more than two goals", and Italy did win 3-0. Again, there are questions. Not only did Italy only lead 1-0 after 59 minutes, Ukraine had hit a post and had a goal cleared off the line.
My last concern is that the fixers claim to have affected four games, but only found one in the group stages, and then found three teams willing to throw games in the knockouts? Why would Ecuador or Ukraine do that, and why would Ghana throw a game, play their best football to sneak into the knockout rounds, and then throw another one?
These questions go unanswered in the book, and, unfortunately, it ruins the rest of it for me.