Belize's Elroy Smith, right, can't stop Chris Wondolowski… (Jonathan Ferrey / Getty…)
The Belize national soccer team probably won't win a game in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. But simply by qualifying the underdog Jaguars have become one of the fan favorites in the 12-country tournament, the country's first international soccer competition.
And now comes another reason to root for Belize: The team, so strapped for money it had to organize fundraisers just to make to the event, turned down a man who offered big money to players in an effort to get them to manipulate Tuesday's game with the U.S., which Belize lost, 6-1.
According to players, the man befriended the team before a recent friendly in Guatemala, then met them again at a mall near the team's Gold Cup hotel in Portland, Ore. Backup goalkeeper Woodrow West told a Belize television station what happened next, according to a transcript posted on the 7newsbelize Web page:
"That is what I explained to the man: I made him understand that we're not into taking money from him or anything like that, and we're here for our country regardless if we're in the USA, but we're not into that none at all," West said. "He got frightened and we walked.... So when we went he chased us and grabbed us and told us not to tell anyone; and that if we didn't tell anyone -- that when we got to Belize he would give us $10,000 euros. We are Belizeans and that is what we're doing out here -- to represent our country and to me Woodrow West and being loyal to my country -- that [is] bigger than any amount of money that they can ever give me and that is why I stood firm and thank God we had that strength to deny this man because he was really into giving us a large amount of money."
The team wouldn't have made it to Portland if not for a telethon it organized that earned $60,000. Local groups also held barbecues and Nike donated uniforms to help cut costs.
Most of the players on the Belize team must work at least part-time to support their soccer dreams and though Belize is a small country with a population smaller than that of Anaheim, the players do not practice together year-around.
"The man asked me a lot of questions and the man asked me how much money I made in Belize and I told him we make a certain amount of money," midfielder Andres Makin Jr. said. "Then he told me that that isn't any kind of money and he kept asking questions and questions and only about money he was talking about."
Earlier this year Europol, the European Union's joint police body, said it had uncovered evidence of possible match-fixing involving 680 soccer games worldwide. And this is not the first time match-fixing has been tried at the Gold Cup with investigators having found evidence that 2011 games involving Cuba, Grenada and El Salvador may have been manipulated.
New CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb, whose organization oversees the sport in North America, Central America and the Caribbean, has promised a zero-tolerance approach to match-fixing.
"Match-fixing is a cancer for football. It’s one of the unfortunate things that really could cause great damage to the integrity of the sport," he said.
CONCACAF is expected to investigate the claims made by the players from Belize, who play Saturday against Costa Rica in Sandy, Utah.
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