World Cup Qualifiers - CONMEBOL

World Cup Qualifiers - CONMEBOL (80)

FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against Ecuador over the potential use of an ineligible player in their successful World Cup qualifying campaign.

Chile last week asked the world football governing body to investigate allegations that right-back Byron Castillo is actually Colombian and not eligible to represent Ecuador.

Castillo played eight times for Ecuador in South American qualifying, including a goalless draw with Chile in September and a 2-0 victory in November.

La Roja finished seventh, meaning they just missed out on a play-off spot, but believe Ecuador should be expelled from the quadrennial competition.

And FIFA confirmed on Wednesday that it is looking into the recent complaint made by the Federacion de Futbol de Chile.

The statement read: "FIFA has decided to open disciplinary proceedings in relation to Byron David Castillo Segura's possible breach of the call criteria for the indicated matches. 

"In this context, the FEF and the Peruvian Football Federation have been invited to present their positions before the FIFA Disciplinary Committee."

Ecuador have already been drawn in Group A at the World Cup, alongside hosts Qatar, as well as Senegal and the Netherlands.

FIFA sanctioned Bolivia for fielding ineligible player Nelson Cabrera in 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Peru and Chile, awarding their opponents 3-0 wins in both instances.

FIFA has confirmed Brazil and Argentina will have to replay last September's abandoned World Cup qualifier after rejecting appeals from both countries' football federations. 

The original fixture in Sao Paolo was abandoned after just five minutes when Brazilian health officials entered the pitch, with players Emiliano Martinez, Emiliano Buendia, Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso accused by the Brazilian government of providing false information on their immigration forms and breaking the nation's Covid-19 laws.

FIFA's original ruling on the matter was announced in February, ordering the fixture to be replayed with all four of those players suspended and handing fines to both sides.

Both countries' federations subsequently lodged appeals against those measures, but FIFA has now confirmed the fixture will be replayed at an as-yet unspecified date and venue.

A statement from world football's governing body on Monday said: "The FIFA Appeal Committee has taken decisions on the appeals lodged by the Brazilian Football Association (CBF) and the Argentinian Football Association (AFA).

"After analysing the submissions of both parties and considering all circumstances of the case, the Appeal Committee confirmed that the match would be replayed and also upheld the fine of CHF 50,000 that was imposed on both associations as a result of the abandonment."

Brazil and Argentina have both qualified for the tournament in Qatar in comfortable fashion, with Brazil sitting top of the CONMEBOL qualification group with 45 points after an as-yet unbeaten campaign, and Argentina second with 39 points, meaning the replayed fixture will have no impact on the final standings.

Chile have demanded FIFA investigate allegations that World Cup qualification rivals Ecuador used an ineligible player during their successful campaign.

A statement from the Federacion de Futbol de Chile outlined their belief that right back Byron Castillo was born in Colombia in 1995, not in Ecuador in 1998, as had previously been thought to be the case.

Castillo made eight appearances for Ecuador in their World Cup qualifying campaign, with La Tri set to take part in the tournament in Qatar at the end of this year.

Ecuador have been drawn in Group A alongside hosts Qatar, as well as Senegal and the Netherlands.

However, Chile released a statement on Thursday detailing their allegations around Castillo and demanding an investigation from FIFA.

La Roja finished seventh in South American World Cup qualifying, just missing out on a play-off spot.

"We inform that, on May 4, through the Carlezzo Abogados studio, we sent to the FIFA Disciplinary Commission a complaint against the player Byron David Castillo Segura and the Ecuadorian Football Federation (FEF), due to the use of false birth certificate, false declaration of age and false nationality by the aforementioned player," the statement read.

"We understand, based on all the information and documents collected, that the facts are too serious and must be thoroughly investigated by FIFA.

"There are innumerable proofs that the player was born in Colombia, in the city of Tumaco, on July 25, 1995, and not on November 10, 1998, in the Ecuadorian city of General Villamil Playas.

"The investigations carried out in Ecuador, including a legal report by the National Directorate of Civil Registry, the highest authority in the matter in this country, declared the existence of inconsistencies in the birth certificate presented by the player, and reported that this document did not exist in its internal files, pointing out other weaknesses in the document, to conclude that it was possibly fraudulent.

"In addition, an investigative commission of the Ecuadorian Football Federation, aimed at clarifying the irregularities existing in the records of players before this federation, concluded that the player was Colombian.

"All that, obviously, was fully known to the FEF. The world of football cannot close its eyes to so many tests. The practice of serious and conscious irregularities in the registration of players cannot be accepted, especially when we talk about a world competition. There must be fair play on and off the pitch."

 

James Rodriguez said his soul is broken by the fact that Colombia will not be at the 2022 World Cup, after they failed to qualify for a place in Qatar.

Colombia beat Venezuela 1-0 on Tuesday, with James scoring the winner from the penalty spot.

However, Peru beat Paraguay to finish one point above Colombia in the CONMEBOL standings, meaning they took fifth place and will go up against either Australia or the United Arab Emirates in an inter-confederation play-off.

James, who shot to stardom with his standout performances for Colombia at the 2014 World Cup when winning the Golden Boot, plays his club football in Qatar, yet one of South American football's most prominent poster boys will not be at the showpiece tournament.

It is a fall from grace for Colombia, who reached the quarter-finals in 2014 and the last 16 in 2018, having failed to qualify for the 2002, 2006 and 2010 editions of the tournament, while they also finished third in the 2021 Copa America.

Former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich playmaker James will be 34 by the time the 2026 World Cup comes around, meaning he may have missed his last chance to represent his country on the biggest stage. 

"The most beautiful thing that has happened to me in my career as a footballer was attending two World Cups representing the shirt that I love the most, the yellow of my national team," he wrote on social media.

"Today I am in deep pain. I believe that our country has the talent and players to always be part of the World Cup.

"I feel sad and not only for myself, but also for my colleagues who deserve to shine and I know they have how. I don't know if [I'm] coming for the next processes, I don't know if [I'll be] here or not.

"What I do know is that it breaks my soul to lose, it makes me uncomfortable not being classified and this cannot happen again."

James, who disputed coach Reinaldo Rueda's reasoning as to why he was not selected for last year's Copa America, also suggested Colombia must reassess after their failure.

"I want Colombia to go to all the World Cups," he wrote.

"We must plan, join forces and work hard from the administrative and sports aspects to once again show the world the power and talent of our land."

Luis Suarez reflected on a "special night" after overtaking Lionel Messi as the top-scoring player in South American World Cup qualifiers during Uruguay's win against Chile.

The Atletico Madrid striker scored an impressive bicycle-kick to open the scoring in Tuesday's contest before Federico Valverde added a late second in the 2-0 victory.

That goal sealed a third-placed finish for Uruguay behind Brazil and Argentina as La Celeste qualified for the World Cup for a fourth edition running, and a fifth time in six attempts.

Suarez has now found the net 29 times for his country in 62 World Cup qualifiers, one goal more than Messi having played two games more.

Next on the list is Bolivia striker Marcelo Moreno, who has 22 goals in 58 games, followed by Chile's Alexis Sanchez (20 in 56) and Argentina great Hernan Crespo (19 in 33).

 

Former Barcelona striker Suarez posted an image of himself with his match shirt on the back of the victory – Uruguay's fourth in a row under new head coach Diego Alonso.

That is their best run since an identical streak between March and June 2019 under former boss Oscar Tabarez, who was in charge for 15 years before leaving last November.

"Special night, special match, special shirt and with a goal," Suarez posted. "What more can I ask for to live unique and unforgettable moments with my country?"

Uruguay will learn their World Cup group opponents on Friday, along with fellow South American participants Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador. 

Fifth-placed Peru must come through an inter-confederation play-off against either Australia or the United Arab Emirates in June.

As for Suarez, he is set to return to club duty on Saturday when Atletico host Deportivo Alaves in LaLiga.

Brazil head coach Tite praised the performance of his much-changed Brazil side after a comfortable 4-0 win in World Cup qualifying in Bolivia on Tuesday.

Goals from Lucas Paqueta, Richarlison (two) and Bruno Guimaraes sealed the routine victory in La Paz, a notoriously difficult place to play football given its high altitude, which Tite referenced before the game.

The Selecao had already qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and so Tite was happy to ring the changes after also winning 4-0 against Chile last week, with Philippe Coutinho and Richarlison coming in for Vinicius Jr and the suspended Neymar.

There were also starts for Dani Alves, Eder Militao, Alex Telles, Fabinho and Guimaraes, who scored his first goal at international level.

"We need to see the game in its whole context," Tite said. "It was a linear situation in the first and second half. The changes helped to maintain our balance.

"In terms of tactics, we play in a 4-4-3 almost always, even in different situations. Sometimes we have a player who floats, like Coutinho today. The striker attacked space today. In the other game it was two central defenders with two arrows on their side."

The 60-year-old also referenced the difficulty of playing in La Paz, saying he even struggles with it just standing on the touchline.

"To come up against such adversity and be able to produce this score, with a lot of shots, maintaining our level and making changes to the team without losing our model [was impressive]," he said. "Our recovery of ball possession remained high, and we kept up very high levels of concentration.

"My head hurts, I go upstairs and I gasp. The athlete diminishes his physical capacity for performance. It was [a performance above expectations]. To put in that performance against Bolivia here in La Paz is very difficult.

"A team that has changed its starting lineups and maintains a pattern, this is significant. We always try to do the best job possible. The feeling I have is one of peace."

Brazil sit top of South American qualifying with a six-point lead after securing 14 wins and three draws from their 17 games, with only the re-arranged clash against Argentina still to play.

Peru are one game away from back-to-back World Cup finals appearances following Tuesday's 2-0 win over Paraguay and head coach Ricardo Gareca lauded his side who seemed set to miss out six months ago.

La Blanquirroja clinched fifth spot in World Cup qualifying in CONMEBOL with the victory over Paraguay, finishing ahead of Colombia and Chile who were eliminated.

Peru's win means they will play the fifth-ranked team from the Asian Football Confederation, either Australia or UAE, who will meet in a one-off playoff in Doha in June. The inter-confederation playoff will also be played as a one-off in Doha on June 13 or 14.

Gareca's side seemed a long shot to claim fifth after back-to-back 1-0 losses to Bolivia and Argentina which left them second last in the standings in October but rallied by claiming 13 points from a possible 18 in their final six qualifiers.

“We didn't start the qualifiers well, but we rebounded well," Gareca told reporters. "It gave us the possibility to get to the playoff spot.

"I have to congratulate the boys and thank the people for the support. It was incredible. When I renewed my contract, this is what I wanted."

Gareca has been widely praised within Peru for his efforts, having taken over as national team boss in March 2015 and leading the side to its first World Cup in 36 years in 2018 along with the 2019 Copa America final.

The sentiment has been different for Colombia head coach Reinaldo Rueda, who achieved a rare feat of guiding two sides in qualifying who both failed to reach the World Cup. Rueda had led Chile early in qualifying before being dismissed, taking over Colombia in January.

"I think that not achieving the goal is a shame for Colombian football," Rueda told reporters after Colombia's 1-0 win in Venezuela which was not enough. "It is a very strong frustration. It was added, but the great result was not given."

"I think it is very clear that my contract was subject to qualifying for the World Cup, so it is an evaluation that the board will have to do, of the work we have done."

Chile's failure means they have missed the past two World Cups, meaning the international careers of several of their golden generation, including Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Charles Aranguiz, Claudio Bravo, Mauricio Isla, Gary Medel and Eduardo Vargas, may come to an end.

Chile head coach Martin Lasarte told reporters after their 2-0 home loss to Uruguay: "I think some players from the 'golden generation' still have something to give."

Despite making history in Argentina's 1-1 draw against Ecuador, manager Lionel Scaloni seemed disappointed to share the points away from home.

It looked like it was going to be a win and a clean sheet for the visiting side after Julian Alvarez put them up in the first half, before late drama.

VAR ruled that a 90th-minute header struck the arm of an Argentinian defender, and Enner Valencia stepped up from the penalty spot and put home the rebound after his initial strike was saved.

With the result, Argentina have now played 31 games since their last loss, dating back to the 2019 Copa America semi-final, which is the longest active unbeaten run in international football.

Argentina's 31-game unbeaten streak also matched the record feat achieved by the national team from 1991 to 1993.

However Scaloni, who received a yellow card from the sideline, was focused on the difficulty of the World Cup qualifying campaign as a whole.

"These two dates [against Venezuela and Ecuador] were very hard for us," he told reporters.

"Between suspensions, injuries and players who arrived very fair, we had to support each other and I appreciate that very much. 

"They are very hard to play – sometimes people really don't realise how hard they are. I was just talking to the boys from the under-20s who came to watch the match, and they couldn't understand the degree of difficulty that the matches present.

"Today's game was played on a field that was not in good condition – it was almost impossible to play from below – even so, we had a good first half, but in the second they came to us."

It was a different story for Ecuador manager Gustavo Alfaro, who addressed the crowd and called it "one of the happiest moments of my life".

"I thank my family, everyone who was part of this process and this achievement, which is the most important in my career," he said.

"I am living one of the happiest moments of my life. Nobody believed in Ecuador, and today it stands up and says present to the world.

"The challenge that is coming to us [the World Cup] is for 17 million people."

Julian Alvarez's first-half strike was all that separated Argentina from home side Ecuador until a stoppage-time penalty secured a 1-1 draw.

With both sides already punching their tickets to the Qatar World Cup, this fixture was more about national pride, and it was evident neither team was going to take it easy as a number of the biggest stars were included in starting line-ups, including Lionel Messi.

Playing in front of a raucous home crowd, Ecuador defended with fiery passion, which was rewarded in the 93rd minute.

Enner Valencia tucked home a rebound after seeing a penalty awarded by VAR saved, cancelling out Alvarez's 24th-minute opener.

Ecuador almost had a dream start in front of their home fans, with Robert Arboleda's header from a fifth-minute set-piece tipped over the bar by Geronimo Rulli, who then denied Alan Franco.

Argentina had over 60 per cent of possession in the first half and, after their dominance was mitigated by sloppy mistakes early, the pressure paid off when Alvarez broke the deadlock.

Alvarez's goal came after a cross in from the left wing found him at the penalty spot, and though his first-time shot was blocked by a lunging defender, he tucked away the rebound neatly, hard and low across the goalkeeper into the bottom left corner.

Angel Mena fired wide from the edge of the box at the end of a surging run and it looked as if Argentina, who went close with a Messi free-kick would leave victorious until an on-target header struck Lucas Martinez on the arm, with VAR awarding a penalty.

Valencia's initial attempt was saved by Rulli, but the rebound fell fortuitously at his feet for him to tap in the equaliser.

What does it mean?

Both teams have secured qualification to the World Cup, but Argentina managing to again avoid defeat means they are now 31 games unbeaten, a run that stretches back to the 2019 Copa America semi-fiinals.

Immovable Otamendi controls the show

Argentina centre-back Nicolas Otamendi was near-flawless marshalling his defensive unit and was at no fault for the goal.

Otamendi won four out of his five aerial duels – two more than any other team-mate – and won six of his eight total duels.

Speedy Gonzalez runs straight to the bench

Nicolas Gonzalez started on the left wing for Argentina, but was largely ineffective before being substituted in the 78th minute.

Gonzalez was credited with zero created chances, and only had a passing accuracy of 44 per cent in the final third.

What's next?

Argentina face reigning European champions Italy on June 1. Ecuador can start to think about preparations for their first World Cup finals appearance since 2014.

Brazil maintained their unbeaten record in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup on Tuesday after a 4-0 win over Bolivia in La Paz.

At the notoriously tricky Estadio Hernando Siles, first-half goals from Lucas Paqueta, Richarlison and Bruno Guimaraes proved the difference.

With the likes of Neymar, Casemiro, Vinicius Junior and Fred all rested, Tite's side were by no means dominant, but characteristically did enough to secure a 14th win out of 17 games.

Though qualification is not technically finished for Brazil, with their abandoned game with Argentina set to be rescheduled, that fixture with their arch rivals will likely be nothing more than a glorified friendly for both teams as they prepare for the finals in Qatar.

The best chance in the opening 20 minutes fell to the hosts, with Henry Vaca cutting inside on Marquinhos and shooting straight at Allisson.

They were made to pay only moments later via fantastic individual work from Paqueta in the 24th minute, the Lyon man playing a one-two with Guimaraes before coolly converting with only Ruben Cordano to beat in the Bolivian goal.

With a simple tap-in, Richarlison doubled the advantage just before half-time. Fabinho drove up the pitch upon Brazil gaining possession and Antony picked out the Everton attacker free at the back post to provide the assist.

It wasn't all clear skies for the Selecao in the altitude of La Paz, with Alisson again called into action in the 52nd minute to keep out Ramiro Vaca's deflected effort.

Alisson was left scrambling only two minutes later with Henry Vaca providing a dangerous cross to the back post for his namesake, who could not get a foot onto the ball for what would have been a certain goal.

Brazil were ruthless when presented opportunities and Guimaraes spectacularly made it three in the 66th minute after another quick counter, volleying home a first-time volley following good work from Gabriel Martinelli.

Richarlison rounded off the scoring from a quick throw-in during injury time, following up Rodrygo's initial attempt after a Guimaraes dart behind the defensive line.

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