AFC probes Lebanon matchfixing report
The Asian Football Confederation has told Reuters it is investigating a report of matchfixing in Lebanon, where 24 players have been sanctioned following allegations that international and regional games were rigged.
The Lebanese Football Federation on Tuesday announced the punishments, including lifetime bans for Malaysian-based defender Ramez Dayoub and Indonesian-based forward Mahmoud El-Ali, which center on international fixtures and AFC Cup matches, the second tier regional club tournament.
"We have received a report today and our disciplinary committee are looking into it," an AFC spokesman said on Wednesday.
The two-month investigation involving over 60 witnesses was led by the general secretary of the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF), Fadi Zreiqat, who said the players had the right to appeal the decision.
Dayoub, who along with Ali was fined $15,000, denied the allegations and said he would fight to clear his name.
"I am not guilty. They have suspended me and accused me of matchfixing without any evidence or proof," Dayoub told FOX Sports. "This is a serious allegation and I have no doubt there's something behind this.
"If I really am guilty of matchfixing, FIFA will investigate and suspend me, not the Lebanese FA."
Lebanon are still in the running to qualify for their first World Cup finals with three matches remaining but any punishment from the AFC or world governing body FIFA could see their hopes dashed.
They are bottom of Group A ahead of their trip to leaders Uzbekistan on March 26 but a win could see them move up to joint second in the five-team table. The top two teams will earn a place in Brazil in 2014.
Dayoub, who joined Malaysian team Selangor last year from Myanmar side Magway FC, last played a World Cup qualifier in June when Lebanon lost 3-0 in South Korea.
El-Ali played for Lebanon in the WAFF Championship in December but hit side failed to advance to the knockout stages.
Another two domestic players, Al-Negma's Mohammad Jaafar and Al Ahed's Hadi Sahmarani, were banned for three seasons and handed $7,000 fines for their involvement.
Another 10 of Sahmarani's team mates at the Lebanese Premier League club were banned for a year and each given $2,000 fines. The club were knocked out in the group stage of the 2012 AFC Cup. Zreiqat said some players had confessed.
The news is a further blow to Asian soccer, which has been hit by matchfixing incidents in China, South Korea and Malaysia in recent years, limiting its development on the world stage.
European police shone a spotlight on the region earlier this month when they said a Singapore-based syndicate had directed matchfixing for at least 380 soccer games in Europe alone.
The AFC will elect a new president in May with matchfixing the top priority to tackle for the four candidates who have confirmed they will run.
(Reporting by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by Peter Rutherford)