The Norwegian Football Association distanced itself from the match-rigging scandal involving its national team against Malta in 2007 but insisted yesterday match-fixing should be severely punished.

The Norwegian FA and the players had “no information” on match-fixing before, during or after the game, and there was nothing that stirred suspicion, a spokesman for the association told The Times.

“Our players worked very hard, as usual, for the victory,” he said. Norway won the match 4-0, scoring three goals in the last 18 minutes.

Maltese international player Kevin Sammut was recently found guilty by UEFA of rigging and handed a 10-year suspension, despite the 31-year-old footballer’s insistence he was innocent. Two other Maltese footballers implicated in the scandal were acquitted.

Although he would not be drawn into expressing an opinion on whether the 10-year suspension was severe enough, a spokesman for the Norwegian Football Association said the European football body ought to be heavy-handed with those caught rigging matches.

“The Norwegian FA has taken note of UEFA’s decision. We strongly reject rigging of football matches because this violates the basic Fair Play principle and it’s a crime. It is important that UEFA hands down a severe punishment in this case,” he said, though he would not comment on the Malta case, claiming he did not know the details.

The case came to light in May last year after Croatian fraudster Marijo Cvrtak, an ally of Ante Sapina who headed a notorious betting syndicate, testified during his trial in Bochum that he had met with at least three Malta players at an Oslo hotel to rig the Norway-Malta game, played on June 2, 2007 in Oslo.

The Malta Football Association concluded its own independent probe in March and then passed the findings to UEFA, which had requested to take over the case since the match in question fell under its jurisdiction.

Investigations conducted by two UEFA disciplinary inspectors when they visited Malta in April found more compelling evidence.

MFA president Norman Darmanin Demajo said he was convinced that the Euro 2008 qualifier was fixed and, in his opinion, more than one player was involved, especially since €200,000 had been placed as bets on the match. He said the evidence was “overwhelming”.

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