DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Asian Football Confederation will look into the match-fixing scandal in Lebanon following the suspension of nearly two dozen players who are said to have fixed games, including a 2014 World Cup qualifier.
The AFC said the matter was referred to its disciplinary committee and that it would issue a statement on Thursday.
On Tuesday, the Lebanese Football Association announced it had suspended national team players Mahmoud al-Ali and Ramez Dayoub for life and handed down suspensions ranging from one to three seasons to 22 other players who were implicated in a match-fixing and bribery scandal. Of the 24, 11 were capped at the national level and six had seen recent action in the team's longshot bid to qualify for the World Cup.
The organization concluded that players took money from betting companies to lose domestic and other matches in Asia. The World Cup qualifier was Lebanon's 1-0 loss to Qatar last year.
The Lebanese FA hired Jordanian and West Asian Football Federation general-secretary Fadi Zreiqat to investigate match-fixing rumors, according to The Daily Star in Beirut. Zreiqat ended up interviewing 65 witness including 44 players and 18 club officials.
The scandal prompted soul searching on Wednesday in a country that loves its football but has struggled over the years to translate the passion into quality on the pitch. Newspapers in the capital Beirut all put the story on the front pages, with headlines including "Scandal Shames Lebanese Football."
It also comes at a difficult time for the national team which has reached the final round of World Cup qualifying for the first time. Ranked 131st in the world, the team's recent success had helped unify a nation still working to overcome sectarian divisions. The Lebanese government had placed a five-year ban on attending domestic league matches following the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister and a prominent Sunni.
The team's success has been credited with helping unify the nation but many now are likely to turn their backs on the team in the wake of the scandal.
Even national coach Theo Buckner admitted the timing of the report could not have come at a worse time for the team, which sits in the basement of Asia Group A with only one victory.
"If it this is true, then it is a sad day for Lebanese football and for me personally," Buckner told The Daily Star. "It is up to the federation to take another decisive step to improve Lebanese football and to make it a more professional environment to work in."
Buckner also said he had already kicked Dayoub off the national team after watching film of the Qatar match. In the match last June, Dayoub made a horrible back pass to the goalkeeper that Qatar's Sebastian Soria stole to score the winning goal.
"We saw that Dayoub many times tried with the Qatar striker (Soria) to find a way for them to score," Buckner said. "After seeing this from Dayoub, I kicked him out. I never believed in this (match fixing) until I saw Ramez."