After blowing the lid off a match-fixing scandal involving the semipro Canadian Soccer League, Ben Rycroft has stumbled upon something not quite as scary and much more hilarious. Back in 2009, MLS side TFC was set to take on Real Madrid in one of those summer friendlies everybody loves, and came to the attention of a Croatian-German match-fixing syndicate. While exploring the possibility of fixing the match the bumbling criminals initially mistook the team for a CSL side called Toronto Croatia. Insert “TFC is as bad as a semipro side” joke here.
All of this came to light thanks to wiretaps German police obtained during an investigation of the syndicate. Although the German-based Croatians eventually figured out that TFC was in fact a Major League Soccer outfit and ultimately did not approach anyone with the team about a fix, they did take a bath on bets placed on the game. Mostly because Gabe Gala scored an unlikely goal.
12:11 p.m. Cvrtak calls Budimir and tells him that Toronto Croatia will be playing a friendly match against Real Madrid today.
5:37 p.m. Cvrtak calls Budimir again. They discuss the betting possibilities for the Real Madrid match. The rate is a victory for Real Madrid with a handicap of 2 on 2.20. That means they would get the money if they win with three goals. It also means they would have to score five. They then get into talking about the playing abilities of the Toronto team. Budimir tells Cvrtak that he thinks it is not that great (similar to a team that moves down from the second Croatian league). Cvrtak asks Budimir about who the owner of the team was and says that you shouldn’t necessarily arrange a fix with the owner of a team anyway. Budimir agrees. He adds that he wants to go there with his friend.
9:47 p.m. Budimir calls Cvrtak once again and lets him know that Real Madrid doesn’t play against Toronto Croatia but, in fact, Toronto FC. He wants to call the “friend” and ask about Toronto’s players and how they compare to the CSL squad.
The new call happens right away and Budimir tells Cvrtak that this Toronto team plays in Major League Soccer and are much better than Toronto Croatia. He advises that they better not bet that much.
A few hours later…
Midnight: Ante Sapina now calls Cvrtak. He invites him to his café to watch the game. Cvrtak agrees and tells him that he has already bet €5,000 ($6,300) on -2.
A nice rate, according to him.
Meanwhile in Toronto, the Real Madrid and Toronto FC players are now warming up at BMO Field. The Spanish fans have swarmed the stadium and the home team’s supporters are dwarfed by comparison.
12:10 a.m. Cvrtak passes on the team lineup of Real Madrid to Sapina. Sapina inquires about the rate in Asia and then tells him to bet €300,000 ($380,000).
12:15 a.m. Sapina calls Cvrtak back quickly and decides to wager only €30,000 ($38,000) but gives no explanation. Soon after Cvrtak sends Sapina a text, telling him that that he will be wagering €20,000 ($25,000).
Back in Toronto, the game kicks off and as expected Real Madrid scores early and often. A pair of goals from Raul, one from Cristiano Ronaldo and another from Karim Benzema has the Spanish side cruising.
It isn’t until the 75th minute when Toronto gets a decent chance on net and the ball falls to most unlikely of players. Gabe Gala, the 5’7 midfielder who only ever saw limited action with TFC during his three-year professional career, bravely dove on a rebound, depositing it into an empty net.
Toronto celebrated like they’d won the Champions League, mobbing Gala – who undoubtedly was having the biggest moment of his career. But despite Real Madrid increasing their lead only minutes later, the match fixers back in Germany were doing anything but celebrating.