GUATEMALA CITY – As the Guatemalan national team prepared for its final warm-up this past Friday night before World Cup qualifying resumes, the storm clouds were gathering around Estadio Mateo Flores, literally and figuratively.
With much of the international soccer world immersed deep in match-fixing scandals, the allegations hit home in the CONCACAF region on Friday afternoon in this Central American nation as FIFA officials arrived to investigate the participation of three veteran national-teamers – two of them ex-MLS players – in helping arrange the outcomes of several international matches on both the club and national team levels.
Guatemalan federation president Bryan Jiménez on Friday confirmed rumors that three players who had been included in Guatemala’s original squad for this round of qualifying had been implicated.
The players allegedly involved – former LA Galaxy man and MLS Cup 2005 hero Guillermo “Pando” Ramírez (above), onetime Real Salt Lake defender Gustavo Cabrera and defender Yony Flores – were separated from the national team earlier this week for what the federation called “acts of indiscipline.”
Sources at the federation who preferred not to be named because they were not authorized to speak on the matter said that Jiménez decided to specify the charges in the interest of what he called “total transparency” on the part of the federation regarding the issue.
In a statement released to the press before Friday night’s friendly match against Costa Rica, the federation noted that the players had been separated from the national team in order to “provide adequate space to carry out an investigation according to the procedures established by FIFA in this type of case ... to determine if there were sporting irregularities on the part of the three players which link them to match-fixing.”
The games under investigation, confirmed by sources at the federation, include a friendly in South Africa played before the 2010 World Cup. At the time, Guatemala’s 5-0 loss raised red flags for FIFA’s recently implemented “early warning system.” In that match, two penalties were given to the hosts, both on hand balls by Cabrera. Ramírez also missed a penalty kick for Guatemala.
According to the same source, more recent internationals under investigation include a 2011 Gold Cup tune-up against Venezuela in Guatemala. Further suspected irregularities in last week’s 3-2 loss at Costa Rica were the final trigger which set off the investigation.
Upon returning from that match, the three players were separated from the squad. The other match under investigation is a 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League match in which Ramírez, Flores and local club Municipal fell to Mexican club Santos, 6-1.
The loss of the trio comes as an on-field blow to Guatemala’s chances of advancing in 2014 World Cup qualifying. Cabrera is a fixture in the center of defense and has won 100 caps for his country over the past decade, second only to Ramírez, the most-capped player in national team history.
Defender Flores looked to have won a starting spot for Guatemala alongside Cabrera on the backline. Flores’ club, Municipal, released a statement Friday saying that the defender had been separated from the club pending the resolution of the match-fixing allegations.
For their part, Guatemalan players and officials were determined to turn attention back to the field on Friday night. Despite the brewing turmoil, the hosts pulled off a 1-0 victory over regional rivals Costa Rica, then downplayed the match-fixing allegations in postgame interviews.
“These are things that happen in soccer,” said midfielder Marco Pappa. “We hope everything works out for the best.”
Guatemala travel to Jamaica in their opener for the third round of CONCACAF qualifying on Friday before hosting the United States on June 12.