Heading into Tuesday's World Cup qualifying match in Paris, France faced a two-goal deficit heading into its second-leg match against Ukraine. It meant France needed an unlikely three-goal victory to advance to next year's World Cup in Brazil.
If what happened next didn't at least raise your eyebrows, it's only because your head is buried upside down in the sand.
France went up 1-0 in the 22nd minute on a goal by Mamadou Sakho to start to the comeback. Nothing remarkable except for Ukraine's horrible defense on the play.
But France scored its next goal in the 34th minute in what should go down as one of the worst missed offside calls in World Cup history. The YouTube clip is undeniable.
Ukraine then received a red card in the 47th minute and was forced to play almost the entire second half short a man. And in the 72nd minute, France punched its ticket to the World Cup on an ugly own goal by Oleg Gusev.
For the second straight World Cup, Les Bleus squeak into the greatest soccer showcase on the globe under a cloud of major controversy. If you don't remember the last time, just make sure you don’t ask an Irishman to remind you about Thierry Henry's hand ball in 2009.
Conspiracy hogwash you say? You don’t have to take my word that match-fixing runs rampant in the soccer world these days.
"Match fixing is the preeminent issue facing sport now. It dwarfs doping. Doping is cheating to win,” says Declan Hill, a world expert on corruption in soccer and author of the recently released Insider’s Guide to Match Fixing In Football.
In the case of France – if there was something fishy going on here – the assumption is that FIFA would prefer to have a power team in the World Cup with its high TV ratings and sponsorship possibilities. Unfortunately, though, too often it’s the sportsbooks and gambling industry in general that get the bad wrap for fixing matches.
As Hill writes, there are two different kinds of match-fixing: arrangements, whereby teams or organizations force an outcome, and gambling fixes, which are predominantly organized by Asian betting syndicates.
Hill recently attended a conference in Denmark to talk about “the red flags of bullshit” when it comes to the subject of match-fixing.
"One of the red flags was when people started talking about 'cleaning up the illegal betting' industry,” he said. “What? What does that have to do with fixing? Illegal betting is just a complete red herring. The problem is corruption and fixing. Whether betting is legal or illegal is a complete non sequitur in this debate."
Some leagues are now using betting market monitoring services like Sportradar to help detect when match fixing is actually happening. But that can only happen in regulated markets, ones where the sportsbooks are just as eager to stamp out fixing as the average bettor looking to throw a few dollars on a game.
Sadly, critics of regulated sports betting in North America still point to match fixing as a scare tactic to sway public opinion.
“Prohibition doesn’t work,” says Hill. “It does not work… The gambling industry is not the problem. The gambling industry is part of the solution.”
Hill says the industry’s part in that solution is for the sports books to contribute to an international anti-corruption agency that gets to the root of the deviance in Asia.
“That way you can go to regulators and sports officials and say: 'Not only do we want honestly played sports, we're going to pay a little amount to ensure that is.’ A little by the sports gambling industry is an enormous amount of money for sport. And say: 'Hey look, we're the guys that get defrauded if there is fixing. We're the guys that get defrauded if there is corruption.’"
But that’s not going to fix the issue on its own. It’s about changing the culture within the sport that this is a practice that is even remotely acceptable.
“'The way we stop the next round of globalized sports corruption is to make the Asian governments be responsible for their own citizens. And the fact of the matter is Asian match fixers are traveling around the world conducting illegal biz deals to corrupt sports. There's nobody better in this world to arrest Asian match fixers than Asians. So get your finger out, do what you're supposed to do."