Officials from FIFA’s integrity office are currently in Malta to ramp up investigations into the 2018 World Cup qualifier between Lithuania and Malta.
The Group F encounter, played in Vilnius on October 11 and won 2-0 by the host side, raised alarm due to abnormal betting activity, prompting the world football body to launch a probe.
It is understood that the FIFA officials are willing to speak to the players who have been called up to the Malta squad for recent international games as well as national coach Pietro Ghedin and team officials as part of their expanding investigation.
The FIFA delegation is expected to make a second visit to Malta in the coming months to continue with their inquiries and one-on-one interviews.
Officials from the Malta Football Association are understood to have made all the necessary arrangements to facilitate the work of the FIFA investigators during their stay here this week.
Local police are holding a separate probe into the Lithuania-Malta qualifier after receiving an official request from the Malta FA to investigate match-fixing allegations in light of FIFA’s warning about irregular betting.
The Times of Malta had broken the story that Malta’s qualifier against Lithuania had been deemed suspicious after FIFA detected abnormal betting patterns under its Early Warning System (EWS).
This newspaper reported at the time that, faced with such scenario, FIFA had instructed Paolo Rondelli, the match commissioner for the Lithuania-Malta qualifier, to warn both teams as well as referee Jesus Gil Manzano about the findings of the EWS.
Rondelli walked into the teams’ dressing rooms a few minutes before kick-off and read out a short statement issued by FIFA.
Norman Darmanin Demajo, the Malta FA president, had confirmed at a news conference that the report drawn up by Sportradar, the local football body’s Swiss-based betting-monitoring partners who also work for UEFA, concluded that there was “overwhelming evidence” that bettors had prior knowledge Malta were going to lose their match against Lithuania with a margin of two goals or more.
Darmanin Demajo also revealed that, according to the Sportradar dossier, betting on the Lithuania-Malta qualifier persisted until 20 minutes before the end of the game.
After a goalless first half, Lithuania scored twice in the final 15 minutes to secure a 2-0 victory.
Malta finished the game with 10 men after defender Jonathan Caruana was sent off in the closing stages.
Lithuania, who crashed to a 4-0 defeat away to Slovakia in their last qualifier, have five points after four games while Malta have yet to open their account.
Malta, who suffered a 1-0 defeat at home to Slovenia in their last Group F outing last month, resume their World Cup qualifying campaign with a home match against Slovakia on March 26.
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