Cameroon’s Football Association, Fecafoot, announced it is investigating “allegations of fraud” during the team’s three losses in group matches, particularly the Indomitable Lions’ 4-0 loss to Croatia. The press release also mentions “the existence of seven bad apples” within the national team. FIFA is not involved in the investigation, yet.
Fecafoot releases do warrant some skepticism. Cameroon has had a myriad of troubles and political divisions in recent years. FIFA briefly suspended them from international competition last summer for government interference, after officials tried to block the election of the incumbent Fecafoot president Iya Mohammed, who is on trial for alleged embezzlement. Cameroon players also have had a long-running dispute with the federation over bonuses, which delayed their trip to Brazil. The manner and timing of this announcement seem odd.
That said, we know match-fixing is rampant in international soccer. The World Cup is an attractive target, with the betting volume masking any abnormal patterns.
If one was looking to fix a World Cup match, Cameroon might be the team you would try. They were disaffected entering the tournament, about money. They had little to play for after the Mexico loss. Access is easier than say England or Spain. Scrutiny and the cost of doing business would be far less. Already lopsided matches are ideal. It’s easier to convince a player on an over-matched team to lose 4-0 instead of an inevitable 2-0. It raises little suspicion.
As infamous fixer Dan tan put it: “Take Bayern Munich above the spread.”
Cameroon’s matches contain some plausible basis for suspicion. Odds shifted significantly against Cameroon before the Croatia match. Cameroon opened at (+275) to win and ended up at (+575) or more at some sports books. That match saw Alex Song earn a dumb red card for a punch in the first half, precipitating three more Croatia goals in a 4-0 defeat.
The Brazil match saw an apparently spirited effort from Cameroon in the first half. But, with Cameroon down 3-1 with 15 minutes remaining. There were two Cameroon bookings, one to Edgar Salli and one to Stephane Mbia. Mbia also mishandled a routine pass directly in front of the defense, setting up a soft Brazil goal to make it 4-1 in the 85th minute. The goal spread in that match was Brazil (-2.5).
Matches are easiest to manipulate in front of goal, either attacking or defending. Cameroon’s shooting performances, as well as their opponents, could be viewed skeptically. Total shot counts during Cameroon’s matches were relatively even, 42 to 46. Cameroon managed just 4/42 shots on target. Opponents had 24/46 on target. Croatia and Brazil created twice as many chances as Mexico did against Cameroon.
It’s possible there’s something to this. It’s also plausible Cameroon were just the worst team in the tournament, by that much. Regardless, expect FIFA to attack this with the verve of the NCAA going after Alabama football. International soccer is run by people who accept bribes to shell companies and distribute paper bags full of cash. From their perspective, the less light shone the better.