Ethiopia admitted Tuesday to fielding an ineligible player in World Cup qualifying after officials "forgot" he wasn't allowed to play, and it could pay for the mistake by losing its place in the final playoffs for Brazil 2014.
Togo and Equatorial Guinea also are accused of having used ineligible players, potentially throwing three of Africa's World Cup qualifying groups into chaos ahead of the final round of games in September.
The Ethiopian Football Federation said that Minyahile Beyene should not have played in the 2-1 win in Botswana on June 8 after he picked up two yellow cards in previous qualifiers.
If the game is awarded to Botswana by FIFA, the regular punishment for ineligible players, Ethiopia's qualification for the playoffs would be put on hold and it would be just two points ahead of Group A rival South Africa ahead of the final round.
Cases against Togo and Equatorial Guinea also could hamper Libya and Tunisia's hopes, and give sudden boosts to Cameroon and Cape Verde.
Togo could be stripped of a 2-0 win over Cameroon, while Equatorial Guinea allegedly fielded the same ineligible player twice against Cape Verde, FIFA said on Tuesday.
Celebrations put on hold
Ethiopia beat South Africa 2-1 on Sunday at a packed National Stadium in Addis Ababa and wildly celebrated what it thought was its progression to the playoffs, only for FIFA to open investigations into Ethiopia and Togo the same day.
Ethiopia's federation and its coach, Sewnet Bishaw, apologized and said they knew about the investigation shortly before the emotional win over South Africa but chose not to make it public so as not to distract the team.
Despite receiving prior warning from FIFA that Minyahile was not eligible for the Botswana game, officials "forgot" that and played him, the federation said. Those officials, which included the federation vice-president and Sewnet, would be punished, it said.
Equatorial Guinea was already sanctioned for fielding an ineligible player against Cape Verde in March. It has appealed that finding, although it is now under investigation for again fielding the same player in another game this month.
"[Equatorial Guinea] has been invited to provide its position to FIFA, together with any documentary evidence it might deem appropriate," FIFA said.
Although the world body hasn't named any of the players or said why they were ineligible, the Ethiopian federation held an emergency meeting Monday and admitted Tuesday that Minyahile shouldn't have played against Botswana.
Cases have precedents
FIFA hasn't yet ruled in any of the cases, but said the disciplinary proceedings against the three countries relate to article 55 of its disciplinary code, which says countries which field ineligible players in competitive games should forfeit the match and pay a minimum fine of 6,000 Swiss francs ($6,522 US).
If Ethiopia loses the Botswana game, South Africa can still overtake it and progress to the playoffs from Group A. Cameroon would go above Libya in Group I if it is awarded a win in the Togo game, where Togo's Marseille midfielder Alexis Romao was ineligible after also receiving two yellow cards in prior games, the Togo Football Federation admitted on Tuesday.
"It was very unfortunate and we have ourselves to blame," federation spokesman Amavi Patatou said, adding Togo expected to forfeit its victory over Cameroon.
Cape Verde could delay Tunisia's qualification for the playoffs if it is awarded three points for its March 24 meeting with Equatorial Guinea. Cape Verde already won their June 8 game, while Tunisia thought it had already qualified on Sunday.