Call it bad luck. Actually, maybe call it good. Or mostly call it stupidity. But in 2009, Toronto FC's senior team unknowingly became the focus of a group of match fixers who were seeking to manipulate Canadian Soccer League games.
In August of that year, Zivko "Chris" Budimir, a man working for Ante Sapina and Mario Cvrtak (heads of a Croatian fixing ring based in Germany) was sent to Canada to learn what he could about fixing games within the CSL. Budimir's original target had been Toronto Croatia. The CBC documentary last week
showed how they were able to successfully manipulate a game between that CSL side and the Trois-Rivières Attak.
Strangely enough, the week Budimir arrived in Canada, another Toronto team was getting ready for a high profile friendly.
According to wiretap conversations acquired from the German police investigation, Budimir and the match fixers had originally mistaken Toronto Croatia for Toronto FC. Hilariously, they believed Toronto Croatia of the CSL was going to play Real Madrid of La Liga on Aug. 7 and were convinced this would be a great opportunity for a fix given the difference in quality.
No kidding.The wiretaps
The following, taken from the wiretaps, is how it all played out on the night of the game for the fixers.12:11 p.m.
Cvrtak calls Budimir and tells him that Toronto Croatia will be playing a friendly match against Real Madrid today.5:37 p.m.
Cvrtak calls Budimir again. They discuss the betting possibilities for the Real Madrid match. The rate is a victory for Real Madrid with a handicap of 2 on 2.20. That means they would get the money if they win with three goals. It also means they would have to score five. They then get into talking about the playing abilities of the Toronto team. Budimir tells Cvrtak that he thinks it is not that great (similar to a team that moves down from the second Croatian league). Cvrtak asks Budimir about who the owner of the team was and says that you shouldn't necessarily arrange a fix with the owner of a team anyway. Budimir agrees. He adds that he wants to go there with his friend. 8:30 p.m.
Cvrtak calls Budimir. Budimir says that Cvrtak should bet €3,000 ($3,800 Cdn) for him on Madrid. Cvrtak asks if he got a call from their friend. Budimir tells him no but he thinks Real Madrid will achieve a high victory. Cvrtak wants to call the friend.9 p.m.
Cvrtak then calls the "friend." It is Dragan Mihelic in Slovenia.
Mihelic was one of the fixers convicted
last year in Germany, along with Sapina and Cvrtak.9:47 p.m.
Budimir calls Cvrtak once again and lets him know that Real Madrid doesn't play against Toronto Croatia but, in fact, Toronto FC. He wants to call the "friend" and ask about Toronto's players and how they compare to the CSL squad.
The new call happens right away and Budimir tells Cvrtak that this Toronto team plays in Major League Soccer and are much better than Toronto Croatia. He advises that they better not bet that much.Midnight
: Ante Sapina now calls Cvrtak. He invites him to his café to watch the game. Cvrtak agrees and tells him that he has already bet €5,000 ($6,300) on -2.
A nice rate, according to him.
Meanwhile in Toronto, the Real Madrid and Toronto FC players are now warming up at BMO Field. The Spanish fans have swarmed the stadium and the home team's supporters are dwarfed by comparison.12:10 a.m.
Cvrtak passes on the team lineup of Real Madrid to Sapina. Sapina inquires about the rate in Asia and then tells him to bet €300,000 ($380,000).12:15 a.m.
Sapina calls Cvrtak back quickly and decides to wager only €30,000 ($38,000) but gives no explanation. Soon after Cvrtak sends Sapina a text, telling him that that he will be wagering €20,000 ($25,000).
Back in Toronto, the game kicks off and as expected Real Madrid scores early and often. A pair of goals from Raul, one from Cristiano Ronaldo and another from Karim Benzema has the Spanish side cruising.
It isn't until the 75th minute when Toronto gets a decent chance on net and the ball falls to most unlikely of players. Gabe Gala, the 5'7 midfielder who only ever saw limited action with TFC during his three-year professional career, bravely dove on a rebound, depositing it into an empty net.
Toronto celebrated like it won the Champions League, mobbing Gala - who undoubtedly was having the biggest moment of his career. But despite Real Madrid increasing their lead only minutes later, the match fixers back in Germany were doing anything but celebrating.3:22 a.m.
Cvrtak gets a call from Budimir. Budimir wants to know how much Cvrtak bet. Budimir bet €5,000 ($6,300) but he also bet €900 ($1,100) on five-up and needs another goal from Real Madrid (the current score was 5-1). Budimir stood to win €15,000 ($19,000) had the little known player not pulled out a miracle moment.3:49 a.m.
With the final score finishing on 5-1 and none of their bets hitting successfully, Cvrtak calls Budimir to vent.TFC game not manipulated
They may have originally set out to try and fix what they thought was a game between a third division Canadian team and one of the world's biggest clubs, but there is nothing in the wiretaps or German police report that shows that Sapina, Cvrtak or Budimir tried to manipulate the Toronto FC game.
But what it did show was what bad gamblers they are when they're not trying to arrange a fix. None of their bets hit. And, aside from how easily these guys were willing to splash money on games they knew little about, there were two other things I found interesting:
The first was that such interest by fixers would be paid to a friendly of this nature, which, in retrospect, is a little foolhardy to assume as much. These types of games, where there is no stake in the outcome and the difference in talent can be high, would likely be easier to fix than a regular match.
What should be clear is if there is a betting line, fixers will try to find ways to take advantage of it. For them, it's only about making money. They talked openly in the wiretaps about approaching Toronto Croatia players prior to learning it was, in fact, Toronto FC who was facing Real Madrid. Forget anything about the sanctity of sport. These people have no shame.
The second, which is more humorous than anything and actually kind of puts a bright spot on this whole saga for me, is that somewhere Gabe Gala, who even the most ardent TFC supporter would strain to recall, is sitting at home completely unaware that a goal he scored three years ago, in a meaningless friendly, cost one match fixer a $19,000 payday.
Kind of puts a smile on your face.
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