Soccer match-fixers choose their targets carefully

(Darko Bandic/AP file photo)

Mario Cizmek was convicted of rigging games in Croatia's first division in 2010. At his trial and in subsequent interviews with The Associated Press, he spoke about the "unwritten rules" of match-fixing:

THE GOALKEEPER IS THE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: "You never can do it without a goalie," Cizmek said. When his team's goalkeeper refused to fix a game, Cizmek returned the money to the fixer and called off the deal.

UNEVEN SPLIT: Players involved with the fix don't get paid the same. The goalkeeper gets the most money — about twice as much as others — because his statistics suffer the most. Defenders get the next-biggest share; midfielders get less; strikers often are not included.

CHOOSING THE TARGETS: Match-fixers look carefully at the roster and decide which players can be bought off. Younger players can be had for less money and are more easily manipulated. Older players who fear that their careers are nearing an end may also be a target. Any player who is known to be in financial trouble is easy prey.

MORE IS BETTER: The more players involved, the better for the fixers. Cizmek said he initially included six of his team's 11 players on the field, but his handler soon increased the group to eight. In some instances of match-fixing, the coach and other team officials have been involved.

DON'T BE OBVIOUS: A bad team that intentionally loses sets off fewer alarms with league officials than good teams losing games they were expected to win. Cizmek's team had lost so many games legitimately in the first half of the season that losing six more did not seem unusual. "We looked so pathetic even before that that I doubt anyone noticed any difference," he said.

CHOOSE OPPONENTS WISELY: Match-fixers pick teams that are either without hope or desperate not to fail, Cizmek said. His team was going to be sent down to a lower division no matter how its final games turned out, making it a prime target for fixers. Likewise, one of his team's opponents desperately needed a win to stay in a top division, so having his team intentionally lose that match was an easy decision that benefited both sides.

HOOKED FOR LIFE: Cizmek said he discovered that once a player has rigged a game, he is trapped. The fixers have enough evidence against the player to get him banned from soccer for life. Shame and guilt will also keep the player quiet. The fixer can keep escalating demands and decreasing the payouts until the player quits, retires or is arrested. Some implicated in match-fixing have even committed suicide.