Ethiopia was stripped of three points in World Cup qualifying by FIFA on Monday for fielding an ineligible player, handing South Africa a lifeline for next year's tournament in Brazil.
FIFA said Ethiopia forfeited its 2-1 win in Botswana on June 8 because Minyahile Beyene played in that game when he was suspended for receiving two yellow cards in earlier qualifiers. FIFA has awarded the match to Botswana 3-0.
The sanction means Ethiopia is now only two points ahead of South Africa and three ahead of Botswana and not guaranteed a place in Africa's final playoffs for the World Cup ahead of the final round of Group A games in September.
FIFA's disciplinary committee also fined Ethiopia's federation 6,000 Swiss francs ($6,348 US).
South Africa coach Gordon Igesund said he was "very pleased with the outcome."
The Ethiopian Football Federation is unlikely to appeal the punishment having already admitted that Minyahile should not have played in Botswana. Minyahile was allowed to play because of an administrative blunder where officials "forgot" he was suspended, the federation said.
The EFF leadership also said it would step down in September because of the potentially costly mistake.
Ethiopia went on to beat South Africa 2-1 at home in its latest game on June 16 and thought then that it had qualified for the 10-team playoffs, which will decide Africa's five countries at the World Cup in Brazil. Ethiopia has never played at the World Cup.
However, FIFA opened disciplinary proceedings against Ethiopia over Minyahile on the same day it joyously celebrated its progress.
"We welcome the decision, which I believe was expected," South Africa coach Igesund said on Monday. "It was never in doubt because rules are rules, so in our view it is a correct decision."
South Africa, the 2010 World Cup host, is on eight points and at home to Botswana in the final round of games on Sept. 6. Ethiopia, now on 10 points, faces an away game against Central African Republic, which could be played in neutral territory because of ongoing unrest in the country.
Botswana, now with seven points, has an outside chance of qualifying for the playoffs if it beats South Africa and Ethiopia loses to Central African Republic, which cannot qualify.
FIFA also is investigating two other African countries — Togo and Equatorial Guinea — for allegedly fielding ineligible players in World Cup qualifying, which could throw two other groups into chaos.
Togo could forfeit its 2-0 win over Cameroon in Group I, which would put Cameroon above Libya and in pole position to take that group's spot in the playoffs.
Equatorial Guinea could forfeit points to Cape Verde in Group B, meaning Tunisia's progress to the playoffs is not yet certain.
Sudan and Gabon have already forfeited games in the World Cup qualifying competition for ineligible players.