THE HAGUE: Football officials vowed to fight the scourge of match fixing but warned a joint effort was needed to tackle the problem after police unveiled a massive criminal network that rigged hundreds of top-flight matches.
Europol said a five-country probe had identified some 380 suspicious matches targeted by a Singapore-based betting cartel, whose illegal activities stretched to players, referees and officials across the world and at all levels of the game.
Matches included two Champions League games, one of them in England, and World Cup qualifiers, netting criminals more than €8 million ($10.4 million) in profit.
Liverpool's 2009 Champions League tie against Debrecen was alleged to be one of 380 European games under suspicion of being fixed.
Europol, the European Union's criminal investigations arm, said on Sunday a Champions League match in England was believed to be corrupt and later Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet reported it was Liverpool's 1-0 win over Hungarian team Debrecen in the Champions League group stage.
There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Liverpool, their players or officials, and a spokesman said: ''Liverpool Football Club has not been contacted by anyone from Europol or UEFA in relation to this matter.''
The report in Ekstra Bladet said Europol sources had confirmed the match between Debrecen and Liverpool was the one involved.
''It is clear to us that this is the biggest investigation ever into suspected match fixing,'' Europol director Rob Wainwright said in The Hague, adding the fall-out hit at the heart of the world game's reputation.
''It is the work of a sophisticated organised crime syndicate based in Asia and working with criminal facilitators around Europe.
''Match fixing is a significant threat to football … involving a broad community of actors. Illegal profits are being made that threaten the very fabric of the game.''
World governing body FIFA said closer co-operation was needed between football's authorities and law-enforcement agencies to crack down on match fixers.
''FIFA and the football community are committed to tackling this problem, but we will not succeed alone,'' FIFA's ''corruption buster'', Ralf Mutschke, a former Interpol executive and police officer, said.
''The support of law-enforcement bodies, legal investigations and ultimately tougher sanctions are required, as currently there is low risk and high gain potential for the fixers.''
European governing body UEFA for its part said it was already working with the authorities ''on these serious matters as part of its zero-tolerance policy towards match fixing in our sport. ''Once the details of these investigations are in UEFA's hands, then they will be reviewed by the appropriate disciplinary bodies in order that the necessary measures are taken,'' it added.
Interpol chief Ronald Noble said last November it expected to make arrests in Singapore over last year's Italian illegal betting scandal after links were suspected with crime lord Tan Seet Eng or Dan Tan.
As part of investigations in Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Finland and Austria, 14 people have already been sentenced to a total of 39 years in prison, Europol said, with more than 100 prosecutions still expected.
At least 425 referees, players and other officials were suspected of involvement, with matches rigged so that major sums of money could be won through betting.
Some 151 suspects were living in Germany, 66 in Turkey and 29 in Switzerland but suspects fixing matches in other parts of Europe and around the world were also being probed, Europol said.
No details were given about which top-flight matches were involved because some investigations were still ongoing. But footage was shown of a match between Argentina and Bolivia during which a referee awarded a highly dubious penalty in extra time.
The largest bet profit was €700,000 in an Austrian league match between Redbull Salzburg and Hartberg. A further 300 suspicious matches were identified in Africa, Asia and South and Central America.