(photo credit: AP)
The validity of Yossi Benayoun's most memorable performance in a Liverpool jersey was thrown into doubt on Wednesday when a German newspaper claimed the match may have been rigged.
The Israeli midfielder scored three goals in Liverpool's stunning 8-0 victory over Turkish side Besiktas in the Champions League on November 6, raising his status within the European soccer community.
However, an article in the Munich-based publication Sueddeutsche Zeitung claimed there was "frenzied betting on a high-score victory" before the game, played at Liverpool's Anfield Stadium.
According to the report, the Besiktas players may have been targeted by Asian betting syndicates who convinced them to throw the game. Peter Crouch and Ryan Babbel both scored twice in the match and Steven Gerard grabbed another goal.
Although Sueddeutsche Zeitung said UEFA was investigating the match, on Wednesday UEFA President Michel Platini denied the reports.
"There is nothing in that [Liverpool vs Besiktas] no, nothing," Platini told journalists in the Irish capital of Dublin where he was attending the official launch of The Football Association of Ireland's new headquarters.
The former French international admitted "We [UEFA] have some games under investigation," but then would reveal no more details other than "there is no national association and there are some clubs which come from the Intertoto Cup."
Former Liverpool and Israel player Avi Cohen said he was convinced there was no illegal influence on the Besiktas game. "I think it's nonsense, because I don't believe such a thing like that could happen," he told The Jerusalem Post.
Cohen, the president of the Israeli Professional Footballers Association who spent two seasons at Anfield between 1979 and 1981, said he did not believe Benayoun would be concerned by the new controversy over his hatrick.
"I think he's still happy and he doesn't care about what people are saying," Cohen said. "He scored a hatrick in a very, very big event and no one can take it away from him."
This could be only the first of a number of high profile games which have been dragged into the betting scandal.
A report in another German publication, the magazine Der Spiegel, recently said that UEFA is looking into 26 matches, dating back to July 2005, including some Champions League and UEFA Cup games.
UEFA director of communications William Gaillard has only confirmed that an InterToto Cup match between Macedonian team Makedonija and Belgian side Cherno More played in July is officially being investigated but admitted a number of other games are under suspicion.
UEFA said it introduced an early warning system to monitor irregular betting activities "over one year ago" and has "agreed to work together with the appropriate police authorities."
A UEFA statement released last week said the Intertoto game had been looked at by the organization's disciplinary inspector who "considered the circumstances serious enough to bring the case before the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body."
"As a responsible governing body UEFA is continuously monitoring football betting patterns and will take disciplinary action in any cases where that may be justified," the statement added. "While any investigation is ongoing it is not appropriate for UEFA to issue further comment."
Meanwhile, Albania's government has said it wants UEFA to investigate match-fixing allegations involving its last two European Championship qualifiers.
State minister Ylli Pango, responsible for sports, wrote to UEFA and implicated Albania's top soccer official in the alleged scandal, ministry spokeswoman Suela Musta said Wednesday.
UEFA said it had received the letter and its contents were being examined.
Albania lost to visiting Belarus 4-2 and at Romania 6-1 last month in its final Group G qualifiers.
Romania and the Netherlands qualified for the final tournament in Austria and Switzerland from the group.
"There are clear suspicions that both matches were sold by the president of our national football federation [Armando Duka]," Musta quoted the letter as saying.
"There is clear evidence he used national team matches for his own interests, insulting the aspirations of fans everywhere."
The Albanian soccer federation denied any wrongdoing.
"Soccer is a game of victories and defeats. One should know how to accept defeats, no matter how bitter," the federation said in a statement.
The national team's 75-year-old Croatian coach Otto Baric resigned following the two losses.
AP contributed to this report.
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