FIFA will investigate the eligibility of Ecuador's Byron Castillo, shown here with the ball against Argentina this year. (Franklin Jacome/AFP/Getty Images)
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FIFA announced Wednesday that its Disciplinary Committee will investigate the eligibility of Ecuador defender Byron Castillo, who played in South American qualifying matches for a La Tri team that earned a spot in this year’s World Cup. If FIFA finds that Castillo should not have been allowed to play for Ecuador, it could call into question the composition of this year’s World Cup, which already is mostly complete.

Last week, the Chilean soccer federation filed a complaint with FIFA over Castillo’s eligibility to compete for Ecuador, claiming Castillo was born in Tumaco, Colombia, in 1995, and not in General Villamil Playas, Ecuador, in 1998, as stated on his official papers. According to Reuters, Chile submitted documents to FIFA that claimed to show forged birth certificates and also claimed an internal Ecuadoran investigation acknowledged inconsistencies in Castillo’s documentation.

Ecuador’s soccer federation, FEF, decried Chile’s claims as “unfounded rumors” in a statement last week. But in 2017, Castillo was removed from Ecuador’s under-20 national team because of inconsistencies in his paperwork, and in 2019 the FEF’s investigation commission confirmed he was born in Tumaco, a port city near Colombia’s southern border with Ecuador.

Last year, though, a panel of Ecuadoran judges ratified Castillo’s citizenship, and he was called up to the senior national team for World Cup qualifiers starting in September.

“We must be emphatic [and state] that Byron Castillo is Ecuadoran for all legal effects,” FEF said in its statement last week.

FIFA’s statement Wednesday said it is investigating “possible falsification of documents” in Castillo’s case. If it finds he was ineligible to play for Ecuador, all of the matches in which he took the field will be ruled 3-0 losses, per FIFA rules. Castillo played in eight of Ecuador’s 12 World Cup qualifiers since the start of September, with the team going 4-2-2 in those matches.

Should FIFA rule Castillo ineligible, it could shake up the World Cup, which this year will be held in November and December. Ecuador qualified automatically by finishing fourth in the South American standings (26 points), followed by Peru (24), Colombia (23) and Chile (19). But if FIFA takes away the 14 standings points Ecuador earned in games played with Castillo, Peru would jump into fourth place and automatically qualify. Chile, which played Ecuador twice with Castillo on the field, would leapfrog into fifth place past Colombia, which would earn a spot in next month’s intercontinental World Cup playoff against Australia or United Arab Emirates.

As it stands now, fifth-place Peru has earned that playoff berth, which will determine the final two bids for the World Cup. In its statement Wednesday, FIFA said it asked Peruvian soccer officials “to submit their positions” about the Castillo case.

Ecuador was drawn into Group A of the World Cup with Qatar, Senegal and Netherlands. However, if FIFA disqualifies Ecuador and Peru becomes an automatic qualifier, the validity of the draw could be called into question. As the 22nd-ranked team in the world, Peru would have been drawn from the Pot 3 grouping of qualified teams. Ecuador came from Pot 4.

In 2016, FIFA stripped Bolivia of its World Cup qualifying points earned in a victory over Peru and a draw with Chile over use of an ineligible player. Thanks to the three points it earned via FIFA’s reversal of the result, Peru finished fifth in the South American qualifying standings and earned its first World Cup bid since 1982 by beating New Zealand in the intercontinental playoff.

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