Referee in Aston Villa’s Conference League semi-final was banned in match-fixing scandal

Felix Zwayer - Referee in Aston Villa's Conference League semi-final was banned in match-fixing scandal
Felix Zwayer served a six-month suspension in 2005 for accepting a bribe from convicted match-fixer Robert Hoyzer - EPA/Christopher Neundorf

Aston Villa’s do-or-die Europa Conference League semi-final second-leg tie against Olympiacos will be officiated by a referee who served a six-month ban as part of a German match-fixing scandal.

Felix Zwayer has been confirmed as the referee for Thursday night’s game in Greece, where Villa need to overturn a 4-2 first-leg deficit to advance to the final in Athens.

Zwayer is ranked as a Uefa “elite category” referee, but has also been involved in controversy and been heavily criticised by Jude Bellingham and Erling Haaland, as well as upsetting West Ham United manager David Moyes.

In 2005, Zwayer was handed a six-month suspension over a match-fixing scandal that involved Bundesliga referee Robert Hoyzer, who was accused of accepting bribes to fix matches.

Zwayer and three other officials reported Hoyzer’s illegal activities, but the 42-year-old real estate broker served a six-month ban as part of the case.

That incident was brought up again in 2021, when Zwayer refereed a game between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in which he was heavily criticised for not giving Dortmund a penalty and sending off coach Marco Rose.

Although Zwayer was punished in 2005 for assisting Hoyzer and accepting a bribe from him, rather than match fixing, England international Bellingham, who played for Dortmund at the time, said: “You can look at a lot of other decisions in the game. If you give a referee, who has, you know, match-fixed before, the biggest game in Germany, what do you expect?”

Bellingham was fined by the German football federation for his comments and Manchester City striker Haaland, who is also a former Dortmund player, said: “As I said he was very arrogant. It seems like he wanted the headlines and he will get them now because he made many mistakes. He was not a good referee. What can I say? Not a good game from him.”

Zwayer took a break from refereeing, following the controversy. He returned in February 2022 and later angered Moyes, who was booked for his protests after the official sent-off Aaron Cresswell in a Europa League quarter-final tie between West Ham and Lyon.

Last summer, Zwayer refereed the Nations League final between Croatia and Spain, and this season took charge of Arsenal’s Champions League victory over PSV Eindhoven and Brighton’s 1-0 Europa League home win against Roma.

Villa look set to be boosted by the return of goalkeeper Emi Martínez for Thursday night’s second leg against Olympiacos after the club posted a picture on X of the Argentina international, alongside Pau Torres, with the message “ready to give everything”.