Only a fool wouldn't worry about Suzuki Cup match fixing: Darby

One of Southeast Asia’s most experienced coaches fears the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup is at risk of match fixing in the wake of revelations four Laos players have been provisionally suspended by the AFC.

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Steve Darby, who has spent more than two decades working in Asian football, told FourFourTwo that more work has to be done to eradicate the threat of match manipulation.

“Only a fool would not be worried about it (match fixing) at the Suzuki Cup as there’s so much pressure on the players,” he said.

Only a fool would not be worried about it at the Suzuki Cup as there’s so much pressure on the players

- Steve Darby

“But if you look at the Indian Super League where I’m now working as a TV pundit they’ve managed to keep the league clean, so it’s hard work but it’s worth it.”

Fears had been raised across Asia that the AFC’s newest tournament, the Solidarity Cup being held in Malaysia, was at risk of infiltration from a fleet of fixers that operate throughout the region.

Those fears were confirmed when it was announced on Monday that a key quartet of Laos players had been suspended for two months for ‘suspected match manipulation’.

Goalkeeper Chintana Souksavath, defenders Saynakhonevieng Phommapanya and Moukda Souksavath and midfielder Phatthana Syvilay were provisionally banned by the AFC in the wake of the nation’s opening match, a 2-1 defeat of lowly Sri Lanka where they conceded a 93rd minute goal.

Darby has extensive coaching experience across Asia

The investigation is also believed to be looking into further historical incidents of match fixing.

Darby, who was the Laos coach until earlier this year, exclusively told FourFourTwo that he was “saddened” by the revelations that involved players who he had worked with during his spell in the country.

“Hearing this news it makes you wonder if all the work you do is wasted if some players are going to fix a game,” the Englishman said.

“It’s certainly not a surprise as there are always whispers about fixing, but when you have these players 24/7 and you have seen them working hard in training and in games it makes me both sad and angry that they have cheated.

“I know two of these players very well, Saynakhonevieng and Moukda, as they were regulars in my team and even with rumours they had to be picked as the were in the best 11 by far.

“Other players I had to leave out as it was proven they had fixed, but to be honest that pair always played well for me.

“Of the others I left Phatthana out of the squad on form and the goalkeeper Chintana was on the bench for his club when I was there so he has made a rapid rise to be the national team goalkeeper – an exceptional rise I would suggest.”

Even with the team missing that quartet as well as a host of regulars from star club side Lanexang United, who are at the Mekong Cup, Laos were still expected to be far too strong for a Macau outfit which has only won one competitive match in two years.

Yet they were defeated by the minnows 4-1 in their second match at the tournament.

With betting patterns indicating a total of five goals to be scored and a Macau win in that fixture – which was the end result after Laos conceded three times in the final 23 minutes – it’s understood there could be further players in the crosshairs.

It would be a remarkable situation if indeed the warning signs were not heeded by the nation after the first wave of bans.

Darby believes the level of corruption in Laos is widespread and endemic and that as welcome as these bans are, he’s stressed that more needs to be done to weed out those who are orchestrating things from the top.

“Sadly I think things run quite deep and what we have here is the infantry private being arrested and the generals are still free.

“When I was in the country there were league matches in Laos that I felt were fixed, but again it’s so hard to prove.

“There were players who were suspended from the national team after the Asian Games but they were allowed to play in the league and my view is that if they are banned it should have been from all football.

“What needs to be done though are sanctions that mean something as well as education.

“It was explained to me by an ex-player that if you are a local who earns $200 a month and you are due to play in an international which logically you will lose anyway, then what do you if someone offers you $5,000 to give away a certain amount of goals – that money goes a long way in Laos.”

Laos face Mongolia in the final Group B match in Kuching on Wednesday, where there will no doubt be a greater deal of scrutiny than usual on just how the team performs.