RIO DE JANEIRO – FIFA expressed "substantial doubts" Wednesday about a German magazine's claims that a World Cup game could have been fixed and asked the publication to provide evidence to back up its report that a renowned match-fixer accurately predicted details of the match hours before it kicked off.
FIFA said it wants Der Spiegel to provide details of all its conversations with convicted match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal to prove its claim that Cameroon's 4-0 loss to Croatia on June 18 may have been fixed.
"The article has put the integrity of FIFA World Cup matches in question, which is a serious allegation," FIFA director of security Ralf Mutschke said in a statement read out at a briefing at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro by spokeswoman Delia Fischer.
FIFA said it had no indication from betting markets that any of the 56 games so far at the World Cup were suspicious and has "substantial doubts about the alleged manipulation published by Der Spiegel."
The weekly magazine claimed that Perumal told it in a Facebook chat hours before the Cameroon-Croatia group game that he knew what was going to happen. Der Spiegel said that Perumal — a Singaporean who is arguably the best-known fixer in football — correctly predicted that Croatia would win 4-0 and Cameroon would have a player sent off in the first half. Cameroon midfielder Alex Song was red-carded just before halftime.
Perumal has denied he made any such predictions.
Suspicious betting activity around a game is an indication that it may have been fixed for illegal gambling syndicates. That could include an unusually large amount of money being bet on the game or wagers being placed at unusual times during the game or on specific happenings — like a first-half red card, for example.
But FIFA said it had found no suspicious activity around Cameroon-Croatia or any other game in Brazil. Football's world body has access to information from hundreds of betting operators through its Zurich-based EWS, or "Early Warning System."
"As mentioned on various occasions, FIFA has carefully monitored all 56 games to date and will continue to monitor the remaining eight matches of the 2014 FIFA World Cup," Mutschke's statement said. "So far, we have found no indication of any match manipulation on the betting market."
The Der Spiegel story grabbed attention because of Perumal's match-fixing history. He was jailed in Finland for paying players to fix games and is suspected of fixing games in other continents, including Africa. He is believed to be behind fixed matches involving South Africa's national team in the weeks before the last World Cup in 2010, where corrupt referees are thought to have manipulated the games.
But in a statement Tuesday, Perumal said that his Facebook chat with a Der Spiegel reporter about Cameroon's team took place three days after the game in question and not hours before it, as the magazine said. The authors of Perumal's biography sent copies of the chat to The Associated Press where it was indeed dated June 21.
The Der Spiegel reporter whose name was published with the story, Rafael Buschmann, insisted his report was accurate, writing in an email to the AP: "We firmly stand by our assertion that Mr Perumal wrote in a Facebook chat with der Spiegel some hours before the world cup match Croatia vs Cameroon, that the result of the match will be a 4-0-victory for Croatia and that a player of Cameroon will get a red card in the first halftime."
Buschmann didn't respond to phone calls and emails to also provide copies of the conversation.
Der Spiegel's claims prompted the Cameroon football federation to open an official investigation into possible match-fixing by its players. Perumal did say in the Facebook chat that seven Cameroon players were "rotten apples" and the team was "on the take." However, in his later statement he said that was only an "educated guess" and he had no proof of that.
Cameroon lost all three of its games at the World Cup: 1-0 to Mexico, 4-0 to Croatia and 4-1 to host Brazil. But the results were not surprising considering the West African country's poor World Cup record over the last two decades. It has won just one out of 15 games since 1990.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP