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Israel's soccer world was mired in turmoil Sunday following a match-fixing scandal that threatened to mar the legitimacy of Israel's professional soccer league.
A second division league game in a week was canceled Saturday after three players from the Hapoel Beer Sheva soccer team came forward and admitted they were offered bribes to throw a national league game against Hapoel Raanana.
The players, Yehiel Tsagai, Evyatar Iluz and Miki Atiya, were arrested and questioned by police. They remained in custody Sunday, as another teammate, goaltender Assi Rahamim, was arrested in connection with the scandal.
According to Israeli media, each of the players was given 10,000 shekels (US$2,400, â‚¬1,800) along with a warning not to play too hard. One of the players said he was threatened by a man who stuck a gun to his head.
The suspects told police that gangsters offered them the bribes to throw Saturday's game because of this week's unusually large sports lottery of 40 million shekels (US$9 million, â‚¬7.2 million). The sports lottery is based on the outcomes of all the top soccer games in the country in any given week.
The Israel Football Association said the game was postponed pending police investigation of the affair, and the sports lottery jackpot as a result was reduced to 10 million shekels (US$2.3 million, â‚¬1.8 million).
"This is the black Sabbath of Israeli soccer," said Iche Menacham, chairman of the Israel Football Association.
The scandal follows another embarrassing affair for Israeli soccer earlier in the week, when a goalie from a top league was suspended following suspicious of throwing a match.
Hapoel Kfar Saba goalkeeper Oshri Levi was released after allegedly throwing the club's recent Premier League game against Maccabi Haifa.
Levi conceded a late goal in which he appeared to have thrown himself over his own goal line after making a save. The match ended in a 3-3 draw.
Aside from the government-sanctioned state sports lottery, there is also a massive illegal betting syndicate that has tarnished Israeli soccer in recent years.