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Belize players praised for refusing to throw match

updated 12:51 PM EDT, Fri July 12, 2013
Even though Belize lost 6-1 to the U.S., it drew praise when its players declined to throw the match in exchange for cash.
Even though Belize lost 6-1 to the U.S., it drew praise when its players declined to throw the match in exchange for cash.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Belize internationals were offered cash in exchange for throwing Gold Cup game
  • They refused and told officials, who subsequently identified the individual in question
  • Belize, ranked 130th in the world, is playing at the Gold Cup for the first time

(CNN) -- Belize, the tiny nation bordering Mexico and Guatemala, was already a fan favorite at the Gold Cup given its massive underdog tag.

But the national team likely gained even more supporters after players turned down a "large amount of money" to throw a match against the U.S. at the tournament.

Two of the players, Woodrow West and Ian Gaynair, told CONCACAF officials about the incident and after an investigation was launched, it led to "positive identification of the individual attempting the bribery," the governing body said in a statement.

"We want to thank Woodrow West and Ian Gaynair and recognize them for their bravery and commitment to preserving the integrity of our game," CONCACAF said.

Read: Match fixing threatens football's integrity

According to the website of a television station in Belize, the man offering the money first met team members in Guatemala and attempted to befriend them.

He then called them in Portland, Oregon and met players at a mall near the team hotel two days before the game against the Gold Cup host.

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"He started talking that we don't really stand a chance to beat the U.S. so he wanted us to promise him that we would lose the game and that he would give us a large amount of money to change our lives in Belize and to help our families," Gaynair was quoted as saying by the website, www.7newsbelize.com.

Even though the majority of Belize's players are part-timers and the team needed to hold fundraisers to help cover costs, the players declined the offer.

"He saw that my features changed and he saw that we weren't into it so he got frightened and took out a large amount of money to bribe us, a lot of hundred and fifty dollar bills and threw it at us on the table and told us to keep it and to not say anything," Gaynair, a defender, said.

"Like I told him, 'We can't take that money,' because at the end of the day our country is behind us and we just made history for these big games so we can't just sell out our country for a little bit of money."

Belize, 130th in the FIFA rankings, would go on to lose 6-1 to the U.S. in Portland in its tournament debut Wednesday.

"We are Belizeans and that is what we're doing out here -- to represent our country and me, Woodrow West, and being loyal to my country," said West, the backup keeper. "That (is) bigger than any amount of money that they can ever give me and that is why I stood firm.

"Thank God we had that strength to deny this man because he was really into giving us a large amount of money."

Read: Match fixing is a 'soccer disease'

Although the actions of the Belize internationals will be fully applauded, the approach raises concerns about the seemingly easy access to players.

How does match fixing occur?
Match-fixing suspect turns himself in

In February, Europol deemed more than 600 games across the globe suspicious as the sport's underbelly -- of match fixing -- was exposed.

"The fight against match manipulation is a top priority for CONCACAF," CONCACAF said. "In alignment with FIFA guidelines and with the help of outside entities such as Interpol, we have taken all necessary measures to ensure the legitimacy of each game played throughout the 2013 Gold Cup.

"We are precluded from commenting any further on this matter, due to the ongoing nature of the investigation."

FIFA didn't return an email from CNN seeking comment.

Belize, meanwhile, faces Costa Rica on Saturday.

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