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FIFA keeps Ecuador in the World Cup field, dismissing claim from rivals

Chile and Peru had claimed that defender Byron Castillo was born in Colombia, not Ecuador, and therefore should not have been allowed to play in the qualifiers. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

Soccer’s global governing body Friday rejected claims by rivals that Ecuador fielded an ineligible player in World Cup qualifiers, clearing the way for the South American country to play in the men’s tournament this year.

Almost nine weeks before Ecuador will face host Qatar in the opening match, FIFA’s appeal committee ruled that, “on the basis of the documents presented, the player was to be considered as holding permanent Ecuadorian nationality” and eligible to represent the country.

Chile and Peru, the top candidates to replace Ecuador in the tournament, had claimed that defender Byron Castillo was born in Colombia, not Ecuador, and therefore should not have been allowed to play in the qualifiers.

In announcing its decision, the FIFA appeal committee upheld a June decision by the disciplinary board that cleared Ecuador of violating eligibility rules.

“This is a dark day for football and for the credibility of the system,” Jorge Yunge, general secretary of the Chilean Football Federation, said in a statement, which indicated Chile planned to send the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Chile and Peru do have that right, though the chance of winning the case at this point seems remote, at best.

Birthplace does not necessarily determine a player’s eligibility. If he or she is a naturalized citizen, it doesn’t matter where they were born. Many players on World Cup squads were born outside the country they represent.

It’s not unusual for FIFA to boot countries from the qualifying tournament for sporting or political reasons. (Russia was banned early this year after invading Ukraine.) But removing a team that already had qualified had never been done — and such a decision would come as teams and fans are preparing to descend on the Middle East emirate for the quadrennial, month-long tournament.

By finishing fourth in the South American qualifiers early this year, Ecuador clinched the continent’s last automatic berth and advanced to the World Cup for the fourth time in the past six attempts.

In May, however, Chile claimed Ecuador had violated eligibility rules by playing Castillo. He appeared in eight of Ecuador’s 18 qualifiers.

After an investigation, FIFA’s disciplinary committee in June cleared Ecuador of wrongdoing. Peru joined Chile in an appeal, and in recent weeks, fresh allegations questioning Castillo’s background were raised. FIFA’s appeals committee, chaired by former Obama White House counsel W. Neil Eggleston, heard from both sides Thursday.

Two of the eight games that Castillo appeared in were against Chile: an Ecuador victory and draw. By declaring those games forfeits, FIFA could have awarded five additional points to Chile, which would have moved from seventh place to a tie for fourth with Peru. (Castillo did not play in either of the qualifiers against Peru.) In the first tiebreaker, Chile held a superior goal differential over Peru.

Had FIFA declared forfeits in all of Ecuador’s qualifiers, Peru, which finished fifth in the standings, would have moved into fourth place.

Aside from playing Qatar on Nov. 20, Ecuador will face the Netherlands and Senegal in Group A.

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