Court upholds Albanian club’s 10-year UEFA ban for fixing

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UEFA raised concern about the club’s ties to betting companies, and the influence of club president Ardjan Takaj, above. (AFP)
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The Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed Skenderbeu’s appeal against a 10-year exclusion from European competitions. (Keystone via AP)
Updated 12 July 2019
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Court upholds Albanian club’s 10-year UEFA ban for fixing

  • Judges agreed to UEFA’s 10-year ban and fine of €1 million against Skenderbeu
  • Skenderbeu placed fourth in the Albanian league last season
GENEVA: The longest ban ever imposed on a club by UEFA for match-fixing linked to betting scams has been upheld by sport’s highest court.
The years-long case was resolved Friday after an investigation that implicated a former finance minister of Albania and the Skenderbeu club president, and saw UEFA reveal its staff were subjected to death threats.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed Skenderbeu’s appeal against a 10-year exclusion from European competitions.
CAS said its judging panel “found to its comfortable satisfaction that Skenderbeu was responsible for match-fixing activities” in domestic and continental matches.
The judges agreed UEFA’s 10-year ban and fine of €1 million ($1.13 million) “were proportionate and justified.”
The club’s appeal was heard in Switzerland in April in relative secrecy after UEFA investigators received death threats during their work.
Using evidence of betting patterns, UEFA investigators found suspected fixing of two Champions League qualifying games and two Europa League group-stage games in 2015.
UEFA also suspected Skenderbeu of helping fix around 50 domestic matches since 2011.
Skenderbeu won seven Albanian league titles in the past decade.
UEFA previously suspended Skenderbeu from the 2016-17 Champions League as an interim punishment pending a fuller investigation.
That one-year ban was upheld in a previous CAS judgment which revealed details of UEFA’s investigation.
UEFA raised concern about the club’s ties to betting companies, and the influence of Ridvan Bode, a former government finance minister, and club president Ardjan Takaj.
After one Champions League qualifying game against Crusaders, the Northern Ireland club’s goalkeeper wrote about his suspicions on Twitter.
Skenderbeu had a four-goal aggregate lead late in the second leg in Northern Ireland when the quality of its defensive play slumped, allowing Crusaders to score twice and win the game 3-2. UEFA noted the volume of bets placed on late goals to be scored.
UEFA suggested Skenderbeu’s “defending in this final period was a serious concern, with erratic decision making and a lack of effort displayed during the final minutes by several players. This collective defensive effort can only be viewed with serious concern given the betting patterns witnessed during this stage of the match.”
UEFA raised further concerns about a subsequent Champions League qualifying loss against Dinamo Zagreb, and Europa League group-stage losses against Sporting Lisbon and Lokomotiv Moscow. In all three games Skenderbeu was not expected to win.
Players were implicated by UEFA who it said gave an “extremely questionable defensive performance.” They included Bajram Jashanica, a Kosovo international defender who UEFA later banned for two years for a positive doping test.
UEFA has described Bode and Takaj as “leading persons of the Albanian club,” which had “links to betting companies by means of sponsors or several individuals.”
The case was a landmark for UEFA in 2016 for proceeding with a prosecution that relied so much on betting patterns as the main evidence, having cited “the lack of active cooperation shown by Albanian authorities.”
The 10-year ban exceeds an 8-year exclusion from UEFA competitions imposed on Pobeda of Macedonia for fixing Champions League qualifying games in 2004.
Skenderbeu placed fourth in the Albanian league last season, and was barred from taking a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds.


Algeria sink Senegal in fiery final to claim second Africa Cup of Nations

Updated 20 July 2019
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Algeria sink Senegal in fiery final to claim second Africa Cup of Nations

CAIRO: Baghdad Bounedjah’s early goal propelled Algeria to a first Africa Cup of Nations title in 29 years after a fiery 1-0 victory over Sadio Mane’s Senegal in Friday’s final in Cairo.
Bounedjah gave Algeria a dream start in the second minute when his deflected shot looped over Senegal goalkeeper Alfred Gomis, and it proved enough for the 1990 champions to lift the trophy on foreign soil for the first time.
For Senegal, who lost to Algeria by the same scoreline in the group stage, the long wait for a first continental crown goes on as coach Aliou Cisse, the captain of the 2002 runners-up, again fell short in the final.
It was the first title-decider to feature two African coaches since 1998, with Algeria boss Djamel Belmadi completing a whirlwind 12 months at the helm after inheriting a side that failed to make it out of the group stage two years ago.
With defensive rock Kalidou Koulibaly suspended for Senegal, Salif Sane deputised at the back and Ismaila Sarr was recalled in attack, while Belmadi kept faith in the same side that overcame Nigeria with an injury-time free-kick from Riyad Mahrez.
Senegal had understandably feared the absence of Napoli star Koulibaly, banned after two bookings in the knockout rounds, although the towering Sane was desperately unlucky as Algeria grabbed the lead with scarcely a minute played.
As Bounedjah took aim from 20 yards his effort smacked off Sane and arced high into the air before dropping underneath the crossbar and beyond a static Gomis, sparking delirious celebrations from both players and fans, some of whom arrived for the final on military planes provided by the Algerian government.
It was the first time Gomis had conceded in almost 400 minutes in Egypt having replaced the injured Edouard Mendy ahead of Senegal’s final group game.
Henri Saivet, who missed a penalty in the 1-0 victory over Tunisia, tried to catch Rais Mbohli out with a free-kick while Mbaye Niang fizzed a powerful drive just over as Senegal gradually showed signs of life before the half ended with both sets of players embroiled in a scuffle as they headed for the tunnel.
Senegal thought they had won a penalty on the hour when Cameroonian referee Alioum Alioum pointed to the spot for a suspected handball by Adlene Guedioura, but the official reversed his decision after a VAR review.
Niang rounded an advancing Mbohli after a searching ball through from Cheikhou Kouyate but the forward sliced wide of the target from a tough angle, with the Algeria ‘keeper then acrobatically tipping over a rasping drive from Youssouf Sabaly.
The Desert Foxes started to look jaded as Senegal brought on fresh legs in Krepin Diatta and Mbaye Diagne, but Youcef Belaili nearly made it 2-0 when his cross brushed the head of a defender and skimmed the roof of the net.
Sarr blazed over on the volley as Algeria clung on to their advantage in the closing minutes, the final whistle greeted by an outpouring of raw emotion as the North Africans emerged worthy winners of the expanded 24-team event.