Even those who don’t follow or understand soccer (and that includes most Americans even now) should have found something moving about the final of the latest Africa Cup of Nations in Johannesburg. As expected, Nigeria won, though only by 1-0. But the heroes of the tournament were surely the team they beat, Burkina Faso. This penniless land-locked country of only 17 millions, one tenth of the Nigerian population, has suffered from every possible misfortune since gaining independence.1 Besides, the Burkinabé team was faced with multiple obstacles in the tournament—from refereeing so bad in the semi-final against Ghana that Slim Jdidi, the Tunisian ref, was subsequently suspended, to fields so bad as to account for multiple injuries sustained by players. To see the players kneeling and raising their arms to heaven after qualifying for the final was a sight to warm the heart of every sporting romantic.
If only there hadn’t also been something to chill the blood. It’s true that the team coach said that his players were used to playing in difficult conditions and knew how to make do, but then he should know about making do. He is none other than Paul Put, who now plies his trade in Africa after he was kicked out of the game in his native Belgium. And the last stages of this Cup of Nations coincided with a devastating report from Europol, the European crime-fighting organisation, about the extent of match-fixing in European soccer. "Match-fixing has always existed in football," Put says, and again he should know what he is talking about after his ban for rigging two games while manager of Lierse. He compares himself with Lance Armstrong, “who is pointed at but everybody was taking drugs,” says Put. “It's unfortunate but I think in every sport you have to face those things. That is reality but what can you do about that?"