Match-fixing fear prompts Uefa inquiry

Betting patterns described as "the most suspicious ever seen in football" yesterday prompted European football's governing body to begin "gathering information" about a Uefa Cup match - in Newcastle United's group - on Wednesday.

In the group D match between Panionios and Dinamo Tbilisi, the home side came from 1-0 down at half-time to win 5-2 in Athens. Bookmakers across Europe, including in Britain, suspended betting before kick-off after what industry sources called a "huge gamble" on "unlikely permutations". In other words, punters were betting hundreds of thousands of pounds, at least, predicting the unlikely scenario that Panionios would fall behind, but then win in a canter.

One of the most extreme specific examples of peculiar punts was seen on the betting exchange, Betfair. Some £375,000 was bet on the match on that site alone, more than five times the volume normally expected on a game of that status. A further £14,000 was specifically wagered on Betfair on Panionios losing at half-time, but winning at 90 minutes. Most remarkably, whoever placed that money did so at odds of little more than 4-1, when that type of gamble would normally be priced around 33-1. Whoever placed the bet felt so certain that it would come up that they were unconcerned at the poor value.

Uefa said yesterday that it was "gathering information" from a variety of sources and will decide within a few days whether there are sufficient grounds to launch an official investigation into match-fixing. It is understood that Uefa will ask for evidence from bookmaking firms as well as match officials and its own observers.

The match report of the game on Uefa's official website had described Panionios as "completely off the pace in an uneventful first half". Dinamo's Dato Kvirkvelia then scored his side's first goal of this season's tournament to make it 0-1. The Uefa site then said "the match burst into life in the second half".

The result left Dinamo bottom of the group with no points. They had no chance of qualifying for the next stage before kick-off. The win saw Panionios move to fourth in the group, on three points, leaving them with a theoretical chance of progress. One of the most useful potential sources of information for Uefa might have been Betfair, but the two parties have yet to conclude a "memorandum of understanding", which would legally allow Betfair to provide records of those who gambled.

Betfair, unlike traditional bookmakers, can summon a "paper trail" of all bets, and many sports governing bodies have understandings with Betfair which allow co-operation when there are suspicious betting events. Betfair is legally restricted from helping Uefa until their memorandum is signed.

In another twist to the tale, betting industry whispers said that further unusual patterns had been reported in the run-up to one of last night's games. Some bookmakers closed their books, suspecting another unlikely half-time/full-time reverse.

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