AFC opens investigation into Lebanese matchfixing, defender denies claims

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - The Asian Football Confederation are investigating a report of matchfixing in Lebanon, the regional body said on Wednesday, after the World Cup hopefuls handed out punishments to 22 players for rigging games.

The Lebanese Football Federation on Tuesday announced the punishments, including lifetime bans for Malaysian-based defender Ramez Dayoub and Indonesian-based forward Mahmoud El Ali, after a two-month investigation involving over 60 witnesses.

"We have received a report today and our disciplinary committee are looking into it," an AFC spokesman said.

Dayoub, who along with Ali was fined US$15,000 (S$18.765), denied the allegations and said he would fight to clear his name.

"I am not guilty. They have suspended me and accused me of matchfixing without any evidence or proof," Ramez, who plays for Selangor, told FOX Sports. "This is a serious allegation and I have no doubt there's something behind this.

"If I really am guilty of matchfixing, Fifa will investigate and suspend me, not the Lebanese FA."

The news is a further blow to Asian soccer which has been hit by numerous cases of matchfixing in recent years, limiting its development on the world stage.

European police shone a spotlight on the region earlier this month when they said a Singapore-based syndicate had directed matchfixing for at least 380 soccer games in Europe alone.

Lebanon are still in the running to qualify for their first World Cup finals with three matches remaining but any punishment from the AFC or world governing body Fifa could see their hopes dashed.