SAO PAULO: Brazilian club Athletico Paranaense sacked two players Friday accused of involvement in a match-rigging and illegal gambling scandal that has rocked the football-loving nation. The first-division club said Ecuadoran midfielder Bryan Garcia and Brazilian defender Pedrinho had been fired over suspected involvement in the scheme, in which gamblers allegedly paid players lavish sums to ensure themselves big payouts from online gambling sites. “Integrity and ethics are irrevocable values at Athletico Paranaense,” the club, based in the southern city of Curitiba, said in a statement. “We believe it is everyone’s duty, especially those in the world of football, to preserve and protect the rich heritage that the sport represents in Brazil.” Athletico Paranaense, the 2022 Copa Libertadores runners-up, had suspended Garcia, 22, and Pedrinho, 20, on Wednesday. In all, eight first-division players in Brazil have been suspended by their clubs this week over suspected involvement in the scheme, as well as Brazilian winger Max Alves of the Colorado Rapids in the United States. Authorities in Brazil say the match-rigging ring paid footballers $10,000 to $20,000 to intentionally incur yellow or red cards, give away penalty kicks, force a set number of corners or guarantee certain scores. Justice Minister Flavio Dino ordered federal police Wednesday to open an investigation into the allegations. Authorities in the state of Goias had already launched an investigation in November after second-division club Vila Nova claimed three games in the final round of its league’s 2022 season had been fixed. That was just the “tip of the iceberg,” prosecutors said last month, announcing their probe had uncovered a match-rigging ring whose tentacles extended into various state tournaments, Brazil’s top-flight league and possibly beyond. Many of the footballers — including Garcia and Pedrinho – appear in messages exchanged by members of the betting syndicate that were uncovered by investigators and published by Brazilian media. The two players have not spoken publicly about the accusations. Neither has yet been charged by the authorities. Authorities say at least 13 matches were tampered with, including eight Brazilian first-division fixtures last year.