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FIFA Investigates Chile’s Claim Ecuador Fielded an Ineligible Player in World Cup Qualifying

Plenty of aspects about FIFA’s 2022 World Cup have been shrouded in controversy, so it’s perhaps fitting that just over six months out from the start of play in Qatar, another takes center stage.

This one focuses on Chile’s allegation that Ecuador fielded an ineligible player during qualifying and should this be booted from the 32-team World Cup field. La Tri qualified for just the fourth time in its history (2002, 2006, 2014) and was drawn into Qatar’s group, where it is due to be the host’s first World Cup opponent ever. That is, unless Chile gets its way.

Chile said last week that it sent apparent documentation to FIFA showing that Ecuador right back Byron Castillo used “a false birth certificate, false statement of age and false nationality” and is actually Colombian. Castillo appeared in eight of Ecuador’s qualifying matches, including a win over Chile and a draw in their two meetings. Chile stipulates that those matches become forfeits, which would give seventh-place Chile the points needed to leap into South America’s automatic qualification places. Importantly, Castillo did not face fifth-place Peru or sixth-place Colombia, the latter of which fired coach Reinaldo Rueda after its failure to qualify.

“All this, obviously, was fully known by the (Ecuadorean Federation],” the Chilean federation said in its statement. “The world of soccer cannot close its eyes to this much proof. The practice of serious and deliberate irregularities in the registration of players cannot be accepted, especially when we are talking about a world competition. There must be fair play on and off the field.”

Ecuador’s FA president said in a video statement Tuesday night—reiterating what was claimed in an FA statement from last week—that Castillo’s eligibility should not be in question and that Ecuador followed all steps and protocols to ensure as such. 

Nevertheless, the case is headed to FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee, which is investigating Castillo’s eligibility in a proceeding that could wind up with either no impact at all on the World Cup field—or one with a series of major implications.

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“As recently confirmed by FIFA, the Chilean Football Association has lodged a complaint with the FIFA Disciplinary Committee in which it made a series of allegations concerning the possible falsification of documents granting Ecuadorian nationality to the player Byron David Castillo Segura, as well as the possible illegibility of the said player to participate in eight qualifying matches of the national team of the Ecuadorian Football Association (FEF) in the preliminary competition of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” FIFA wrote in a statement on Wednesday.

“Bearing the above in mind, FIFA has decided to open disciplinary proceedings in relation to the potential ineligibility of Byron David Castillo Segura with regard to the above-mentioned matches. In this context, the FEF and the Peruvian Football Association have been invited to submit their positions to the FIFA Disciplinary Committee.

“Further details will follow in due course.”

There are so many potential threads that could follow depending on the outcome of FIFA’s investigation. If it is found that Castillo was indeed ineligible, would that disqualify Ecuador from the entirety of qualification or just impact the matches in which he played? FIFA asked Peru to give its position, even though Castillo didn’t play against Peru. La Blanquirroja, which finished fifth in CONMEBOL’s qualifying table and must play either Australia or the UAE in a June playoff for one of the remaining World Cup berths, could potentially be impacted by any disciplinary decision.

Beyond that, at the World Cup draw, where pots were determined by the March FIFA ranking, Ecuador was in Pot 4. Chile, ranked higher than Ecuador, would have occupied a place in Pot 3 had it qualified. Would that then call the integrity of the draw into question? At this point, the draw isn’t going to be redone, and just like how the remaining UEFA playoff winner could have potentially been in a higher pot had the playoff remained on schedule for March (instead of being postponed to June on account of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), it’s a quirk of the competition that all will have to confront and accept.

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