By Paul O'Sullivan
A snippet entitled ‘PLAYERS BANNED OVER OWN-GOAL ‘CONSPIRACY’” caught my attention in last weekend’s Sunday Times. In a play-off game in the Indonesian Super league Premier Division between PSS Sleman and PSIS Semarang to determine who would top Group 1 and play Group 2 runners-up Pusamania Borneo FC in the semi-final, the teams scored five own goals between them in the last twelve minutes, with PSS ‘winning’ 3-2. Both teams have been disqualified from the competition. More on the story, including video coverage of some of the ‘goals’, is here (check out a super finish for one of the own-goals from near the corner flag!).
What seems to have driven this behaviour, according to this article, is that both teams are believed to have wanted to avoid Group B runners-up Pusamania Borneo in the semi-finals, on the basis that the latter are owned by local gangsters. What is not clear is why the scoring spree started in the 78th minute and how the scoring stopped at five.
In soccer, one can think of a 90-minute ‘game’ as a series of finitely repeated games within the ninety minutes, with the number of sub-games, at least two (i.e. each half), depending on how many goals are scored. The winner is the one who has scored most goals across all sub-games. Each sub-game can last as long as it takes one team to score after the most-recent kick-off, or until the end of the half, whichever occurs first. If a team is not trying to win, but not deliberately trying to lose, the optimal time to concede a goal is just before the final whistle.
In this instance, both teams may have wanted to lose but believed that their rival wanted to win. At some point, given the score was 0-0, each team may have realised that their rival also did not want to win. Given this, both teams would then have to deliberately lose. The biggest question is why did the own-goals begin in the 78th minute and, given this, why did the first team to put the ball in their own net, PSS, only do so twice? Considering that PSS would have automatically retained possession at the kick-off, then PSIS would have to have turned over possession in order to manufacture three own goals. How, or why, there were only five own goals in twelve minutes is not clear.
Another issue is that if Pusamania Borneo is actually owned by local gangsters that will intimidate all other teams, then it is likely that they will be in final anyway. If the ‘loser’ of the PSS and PSIS game went on to make the final, where they would likely be playing Pusimania, then what was to be gained by throwing their play-off game? Were they hoping that if they made the final against Pusimania that they may be likely to receive a relatively large ‘inducement’ to not be at their best?
What makes this case more interesting is that, if the allegations of gangster ownership are true, how did Pusamania Borneo came second in their group? Is it possible that their ‘owners’ wanted them to have higher ‘odds’ of winning the competition in order to profit from betting on them? I tried to get their odds on Betfair but of the 46 countries whose soccer can be invested in on Betfair, Indonesia is not one of them.
To make matters worse for the clubs involved, the Indonesian FA say there could be more severe sanctions, including relegation, if evidence of match-fixing is found. On the face of it, this would seem a strange, and easily detected, way to fix a match. However, allegations of improper behaviour have been strongly denied. According to the Telegraph article above, “PSS manager Soepardjiono denied accusations that the own-goals were intentional.” We never planned to make those own-goals," he said.”
By Paul O'Sullivan
This website was jointly founded in July 2013 by David Butler, Robbie Butler, John Considine and Declan Jordan. All four founders are Lecturers in Economics at University College Cork, Ireland.