Japan coach and Herrera in a fix

Japan coach and Herrera in a fix

MADRID -Spanish prosecutors filed match-fixing allegations against Japan coach Javier Aguirre and Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera on Monday, accusing them and 39 others of rigging a decisive 2011 Primera Liga match.

In a court filing seen by AFP, state prosecutors alleged that Real Zaragoza players and staff handed hundreds of thousands of euros in cash to Levante players to let Zaragoza win the last match of the season that year, thereby avoiding relegation.

The prosecutors said Zaragoza paid a total of 965,000 euros (S$1.6 million) to the bank accounts of some of their coaches, staff and players.

The recipients then withdrew the same amounts in cash and gave them to Levante players as a "bribe" to throw the match, the prosecutors said.

"The deeds described constitute sporting fraud," the prosecutors wrote.

Zaragoza eventually won the match 2-1 against Levante - who had already escaped relegation that season - with two goals from their then captain, Gabi Fernandez.

Spanish sports daily Marca said that if the case goes to trial and the accused are found guilty, they could face jail sentences of up to four years.

Zaragoza's directors, coaches and captains "agreed...with the consent of the rest of the players, to fix the match", the prosecutors alleged.

They listed five staff members and 18 players of Zaragoza, plus 18 Levante players, among the accused.

Mexican Aguirre, 56, was Zaragoza's coach at the time but was fired a few months into the following season and went on to coach Espanyol.

He was named as one of three people who distributed the money to Zaragoza's opponents.

He was made coach of Japan's national side in June, after Japan were knocked out of the World Cup in Brazil.

Aguirre has repeatedly denied the claims. Yesterday, he told reporters he was not concerned about the long-discussed case after naming his 23-man squad for the Jan 9-31 Asian Cup in Australia.

"At the Asian Cup, I will just be concentrating on the sports and competition side of things," he said.

Many fans of the Blue Samurai, who are record four-time Asian champions, took to social media, calling on the former Atletico Madrid and Mexico coach to be stood down.

It remains to be seen if the Japan Football Association (JFA) will be tempted to temporarily - or permanently - remove the coach to avoid the situation overshadowing the team at Asia's biggest football tournament, where Japan are the defending champions.

Last week, JFA president Kuniya Daini said that his organisation would not have hired Aguirre if it had been aware of the scandal.

Herrera, 25, played for Zaragoza in the match in question on May 21, 2011.

Manchester United bought him for £28.8 million (S$59 million) from Athletic Bilbao in June, in one of the first signings by the English side's new coach, Louis van Gaal.

Among those accused, Fernandez, 31, the current captain of Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, denied that the match was fixed when questioned by prosecutors in a previous hearing for the case on Oct 2.

He said the payment was a bonus and that he returned it in cash when the club asked for it back a few days later, judicial sources said.

Zaragoza filed for bankruptcy protection in June 2011.

Monday's filing was submitted to a judge in the city of Valencia. The judge will decide whether to open a formal judicial investigation.

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