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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Astafjevs Flip-Flops on Russian Bribes

Itar-TassLatvia captain Vitalijs Astafjevs
Latvia captain Vitalijs Astafjevs confirmed and then withdrew his accusations that players and team officials were offered bribes to throw last week's World Cup qualifier against Russia.

Astafjevs blamed the scandal on a reporter from Sporta Avize, Itar-Tass reported Wednesday. The Latvian newspaper quoted Astafjevs as saying money was offered by the Russians.

"[The journalist] asked me whether I had heard anything about rumored attempts by Russian officials to bribe the Latvian team," Itar-Tass quoted Astafjevs as saying. "I replied I had heard such rumors. But I uttered not one word more."

Astafjevs' statement came after a day of criticism and pressure from both Latvian and Russian football officials, who staunchly denied the accusations.

"What Astafjevs said is on the edge of reason," said the president of the Russian Football Union, Vitaly Mutko, in an interview with Sovietsky Sport published Wednesday, weaving a threatening metaphor: "The player takes part in the Russian well, he takes water from there and now he goes and spits in the well. ... Well, now Astafjevs will have to drink from the well."

Sovietsky Sport showed that Astafjevs' change of heart only came late on Tuesday. When originally reached by a Sovietsky Sport reporter during the day, Astafjevs did not renege on his accusations.

"I confirm that those were my words. So I will not say anything more," he said.

Hours later, he had changed his mind when the paper rang him again.

Askols Uldrikis, the journalist who interviewed Astafjevs, said Wednesday that the player had backtracked because of the huge publicity and opprobrium heaped on him since the publication of the interview. Uldrikis again said that the interview, which he taped and was published in question-and-answer form, was correct and that he did not ask the question that Astafjevs now says he asked.

"He realized that he was in a very difficult situation. Now, only he says this and nobody else [supports him]," Uldrikis said by telephone. "We didn't expect such an uproar over that."

In an Internet survey run on Sovietsky Sport's web site, when asked what the Russian Football Union should do about the affair, 56 percent of respondents voted that it should attempt to disqualify Astafjevs for a long period.