June 20, 2013
With just one match remaining for every team in CAF’s second round of qualifying, the proceedings seemed to be wrapping up nicely with five of the 10 groups already decided.
However, two of those groups could be back in play heading into September’s final matches, as world governing body FIFA has confirmed, via its website, that it is investigating “three member associations for each having allegedly fielded an ineligible player in the preliminary competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.”
The two nations whose progress has been put in doubt are Ethiopia and Tunisia, while the third nation being investigated is Togo.
In Group A, Ethiopia seemed to clinch the group with a victory over South Africa Sunday, eliminating Bafana Bafana from qualification less than three years on from the World Cup they hosted.
However, despite the fact that Minyahile Beyene had been booked in a draw at South Africa and a home victory over Botswana, the Ethiopian played in victories over Botswana and South Africa when he should have been suspended for a match.
The Ethiopia football federation has since admitted the mistake and said that they will accept any disciplinary action thrown their way, according to BBC.
FIFA has set a precedent in this qualification process for such matters, overturning three results to 3-0 losses for teams fielding ineligible players.
In fact, Sudan’s 2-0 victory over Zambia was overturned to a 3-0 Zambia victory for a nearly identical situation to Ethiopia’s.
Should Ethiopia’s 2-1 win at Botswana be overturned, their lead over South Africa would be just two points.
Further, if both that result and their 2-1 victory over South Africa are overturned, Bafana Bafana would stunningly go from eliminated losers to group winners without playing a match.
Meanwhile, in Group B, Tunisia seemed to book progress to the CAF playoffs with a draw on Sunday.
However, the north Africans’ group victory has been put in doubt by the result of a match that they had no part in.
Cape Verde Islands has appealed a 4-3 loss they suffered to Equatorial Guinea in March, claiming that their opponents had fielded an ineligible player.
If the result is overturned, the gap between Tunisia and Cape Verde would be just two points, meaning the group would still be in the balance heading into the September match between the two nations.
Finally, Togo is being investigated for having allegedly fielded an ineligible player in their 2-0 victory over Cameroon.
If the result is overturned, Cameroon would move from two points behind Libya to a point clear at the top of the group.
Hence, the complexion of the group heading into the final match between Cameroon and Libya hinges on this clerical decision.
With places in next summer’s World Cup on the line, these decisions carry huge weight for the nations involved.
While it is certainly wrong for nations to field ineligible players, it is hard to imagine a place in the world’s most prestigious tournament being decided by a clerical error.
Given the way these investigations and the playoff round go, though, that could very well be the case.