When Lyon took the pitch against Dinamo Zagreb in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League Group D match, they were in need of a miracle.
Three points behind Dutch powerhouse Ajax, Lyon needed not only for Ajax to lose to Real Madrid (the day's other Group D matchup) but also to defeat Zagreb by at least six goals while hoping Ajax could be held scoreless.
Suspiciously to some that's exactly what happened.
First to the game in Amsterdam: Ajax were not expected to defeat Real Madrid (who, having already beaten Ajax 3-0 at home, came into their final match of group play undefeated) but the Dutch club came out strong, scoring two brilliant goals against Madrid's 3. The final score? 0-3 to Madrid, thanks to some truly astonishing (and, in light of events in Zagreb, quite fishy) refereeing which resulted in both Ajax goals being disallowed for being offside. Except of course that neither of them were. Replays showed both goals being onside by a wide margin.
Coming into the match, Ajax had eight points in the group and a goal differential of +3; by dropping the game (and conceding three goals) to Real Madrid, Ajax ended group play with those same eight points, and their differential dropped to 0.
Now to Lyon and Dinamo Zagreb. Going into the match Lyon had five points in the group and a goal differential of -4. In order to progress to the elimination round of the Champions League they needed Ajax to lose (and for their differential to drop) and they needed to defeat Dinamo Zagreb in front of a hostile crowd. By six goals.
And so they did.
But did they have help?
Initially, the two matches looked like a perfect storm--a routine defeat of Ajax by Real Madrid (with a bit of quirky refereeing, but that's nothing new) and an inspired performance by Lyon that resulted in them scoring their requisite seven goals in just thirty minutes' time.
But it was the way that Lyon scored those goals that started the match fixing whispers. The way the Dinamo Zagreb defenders stopped marking Lyon's strikers. The way the Zagreb goal keeper failed to even move to cover crosses. It was as if Dinamo Zagreb, a team that (despite expectations) came out strongly and was up 1-0 early in the match, suddenly decided to stop defending just long enough for Lyon to score an epic run of goals.
And it's not that Lyon are that overwhelming. They only managed to score two goals against Dinamo when the teams met in France. Even the mighty Real Madrid were held to one goal (though one was all they needed) against Dinamo when the teams played in Zagreb.
And yet even after this perfect string of unlikely coincidences it was still possible that the day involved nothing more than an exceptional amount of luck.
Until Dutch blogs began running the following photo:
That's Dynamo Zagreb's Domagoj Vida smiling and winking at Lyon's Bafetembi Gomis after Gomis netted one of his four goals on the evening.
It shouldn't be too long before someone looks into how many bets were suddenly placed on Lyon during the half, that's for sure.
So what was it? Extraordinary and coincidental luck or good old-fashioned match fixing?