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Could Ecuador be disqualified and banned from the 2022 World Cup? Byron Castillo’s FIFA Eligibility Rules

FIFA has completed its investigation into claims by an ineligible player used by the Ecuadorian Football Federation (FEF) during World Cup qualifying with the country’s place at Qatar 2022 at stake.

According to a claim made by the Chilean FA, Ecuador used an ineligible player, Byron Castillo, throughout World Cup qualifiers and the claim was that La Tri should be removed from the World Cup after qualifying for Qatar 2022 as the fourth-placed team had South America.

FIFA opened its investigation on May 11 and announced its decision almost a month later on June 10:

“After examining the submissions of all parties concerned and examining all the elements put forward to it, the FIFA Disciplinary Committee has decided to close the proceedings against the FEF [Ecuador]. … This decision can be appealed to the FIFA Appeals Committee.”

Chile, who finished seventh in the South American qualifier, insist Castillo was not eligible and that the Chilean team should deserve the World Cup spot against Ecuador as they have played two games against Ecuador in which Castillo has played.

Chile will reportedly appeal the decision, possibly including to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Meanwhile, Ecuador will retain their place at the World Cup, where they were drawn into Group A alongside hosts Qatar, the Netherlands and Senegal at the 2022 World Cup.

MORE: Full breakdown of Group A at World Cup 2022

Why was Ecuador investigated by FIFA?

FIFA’s investigation concerned the eligibility of Ecuadorian full-back Byron Castillo.

The global football governing body opened an investigation into Castillo’s use in Ecuador during CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers. The Chilean FA claimed to have evidence that Castillo, who plays for Ecuadorian club Barcelona of Guayaquil, was born in Tumaco, Colombia and that the 23-year-old used a fake birth certificate and passport.

Castillo played eight World Cup qualifiers for Ecuador, in which the country picked up 15 of their 26 points. Of those eight games, Castillo started seven and played 614 minutes, assisting one goal.

On June 8, the Chilean FA’s lawyer, Eduardo Carlezzo, stated that his team had submitted all the evidence to FIFA and claimed that Ecuador would be banned from the World Cup.

“[Castillo’s] Parents married in Tumaco, Byron was born in Tumaco and baptized in Tumaco,” Carlezzo said, as quoted by TV Azteca in Mexico. “The idea behind it [investigation] is to present quite clearly and transparently all the arguments we have, the documents we have. Whoever tells the truth cannot be afraid [of the truth].”

Ultimately, FIFA did not side with the Chilean FA.

Could Ecuador still be banned from the World Cup?

FIFA has not confirmed Chile’s claim that Castillo is ineligible to play for Ecuador, leaving La Tri at the 2022 World Cup. However, Chile could still appeal the decision.

If an appeal is successful, a possible outcome would be that instead of those opponents giving up wins in all eight games, all points Ecuador have won in the eight games Castillo has played in are nullified. That would leave Ecuador with just 11 points in the South American qualifiers (CONMEBOL), meaning the country would drop to ninth in the 10-team table and it would remain outside of qualifying positions. That’s a scenario where Chile would advance to a qualifying spot.

Should Chile’s appeals result in Ecuador being sidelined from qualifying, it could see all 18 games wiped out. This course of action could potentially result in Colombia rising ahead of Chile.

There is no official word on an appeal from the Chilean FA, although reports suggested it was likely.

Who could replace Ecuador at the World Cup if Chile appeals FIFA ruling?

While Chile is the nation that has reported Ecuador to FIFA in hopes of a place at the 2022 World Cup, there is no guarantee that Chile will be the team to replace Ecuador in Qatar if they go ahead with the appeal process and it proves to be a winner proves successful.

How Chile could replace Ecuador

If Ecuador’s eight games in which Castillo played were changed to 0-3, Chile would climb from seventh to fourth place in the table, an automatic qualifying position. Castillo played in both games and Chile walked away with just one of six possible points.

Meanwhile, Castillo did not play in any game against Colombia or Peru. So if Chile gained five extra points in the standings, it would be the one to finish fourth in the goal difference tie-break ahead of Peru (Chile’s new goal difference of +1 would beat Peru’s goal difference of -3). In this case, Peru would maintain their fifth place, resulting in them playing in the intercontinental qualifier playoffs (Peru currently meets Australia on June 13).

How Colombia or Peru could replace Ecuador

If a successful appeal by Chile results in Ecuador being completely disqualified from qualifying and taking the next team in the table, Chile would not be the first team to be promoted to a qualifying spot.

In this alternative scenario, Peru would be promoted to an automatic qualifying position (fourth place), while Colombia, the team that finished sixth just outside the qualifying zone, would reignite their World Cup hopes as the fifth-placed playoff team.

The latter approach seems highly unlikely as it would entail serious logistical problems. Peru are currently in Qatar preparing for their intercontinental playoff qualifier against Australia on June 13th. If Peru were to move up to fourth and Colombia to fifth, it would mean that the Colombian team would have to play the intercontinental playoffs and the game would almost certainly have to be rearranged given the last-minute change in participants.

Has a team ever been disqualified from the World Cup?

There is precedent for a team being banned from participating in the World Cup for the use of an ineligible player or other penalties.

Chile were the target of a 1994 World Cup suspension after goalkeeper Roberto Rojas faked an injury during 1990 World Cup qualifiers. It was discovered that Rojas used a hidden razor blade to cut himself, making it appear as if he had been injured by a torch that never hit him. Chilean players refused to retake the field after the incident citing safety concerns, but video showed the sequence of events was a hoax. The 2-0 draw defeat was enough to knock Chile out at the 1990 World Cup and subsequently punish them with disqualification from the 1994 competition.

Mexico were banned from the 1990 World Cup after the “Cachirules” scandal, in which they fielded four above-average players in the CONCACAF U20 championships.

In 2011, Syria were eliminated from Asia World Cup 2014 qualifiers after player George Mourad was used in both legs of a second-round qualifier against Tajikistan. Mourad had represented Sweden at youth level and had not formally completed his FIFA approval for a national team transfer, which made him ineligible to play for any other nation.

A rampant spate of bans on ineligible players caused mass confusion in 2013.

African minnows Cape Verde had surprisingly reached the final round of Africa’s World Cup qualifiers for the 2014 tournament, hoping to become the smallest nation ever to qualify for a World Cup. The nation was one step away from completing the mission after beating Tunisia in the final game of the group stage, winning the group of four and earning a pass to the finals. However, it was discovered that Cape Verde fielded an ineligible player in Fernando Varela, who should have sat out the game through suspension after receiving a red card in a previous game.

Cape Verde claimed that Varela’s red card and subsequent suspension was wiped out because the game in which Varela was sent off was itself lost due to the fielding of an ineligible player in Equatorial Guinea. But FIFA disagreed and changed the score to a 3-0 win for Tunisia, instead leading the group. Tunisia would not reach the World Cup and would fall at the last hurdle.

Most recently, Russia was disqualified from all UEFA and FIFA competitions last February following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, meaning the European nation has been eliminated from UEFA World Cup qualifiers and failed to reach the 2022 World Cup.

However, none of the above countries had secured a spot at the World Cup before the disqualification. In all cases, the country’s participation was canceled before qualification was secured. If Ecuador had been disqualified, it would have been an unprecedented decision by FIFA.

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