Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The devastating truth about blunder which could see South Africa - or even Botswana - grab top spot in CAF World Cup qualifying Group A

THE full, sorry truth of Ethiopia’s World Cup qualifying blunder emerged yesterday when their Football Federation officials admitted culpability to a furious football public in Addis Ababa.
Sahilu Gebremariam, president of the Ethiopian Football Federation, didn’t hold back. Neither did his deputy, Berhanu Kebede. Both are under pressure to resign after admitting the ignored directives sent by FIFA.
As you may have read here on Saturday night – as the story was still developing – Ethiopia believed they had finished on top of CAF qualifying Group A after their incredible 2-1 win over South Africa on Sunday. Two people are said to have died in the riotous celebrations after a game won by Bernard Parker’s sensational own goal.
But within minutes of their triumph, FIFA announced they were looking in to Ethiopia fielding an ineligible player - Minyahel Teshome Beyene - who played in the away win against Botswana on June 8 despite being booked twice and thus banned for the fixture.
Vice-president Kebede’s initial mea culpa is damning: "I recall receiving the communiqué with a clear message about Minyahel Teshome. I just don't know how things went wrong. I'm so sad.
“I created one of the gravest mistakes of my life. Will take that to the grave with me.”
Gebremariam was just as harsh on his own Federation, telling the BBC: "We're not going to appeal, it's a management blunder. We accept the FIFA issue.
“We made a mistake, but we are leading the group and we need to concentrate on the future
"We're very much motivated and we know we can qualify. The point is that collectively this is a federation problem. We will make a decision on punishment for those responsible and will announce it soon."

Tellingly, he also admitted: "We heard about the issue on June 12 but we had to keep it secret until we had played against South Africa."

That sentence alone suggests this was more than a simple oversight - as Gordon Igesund told me on Sunday night "If I'd have known about all this, I would have approached the game differently. We would only have needed a draw."
The standard punishment for fielding a banned player under Rule 55 of the FIFA disciplinary code insists the offending team loses any points gained from the match – and Botswana will be handed a 3-0 win.
Given Ethiopia’s admission of guilt today, they go in to the final round of matches on September 6 with Ethiopia on 10 points, Bafana on 8, Botswana up to 7 and Central African Republic 3, though final confirmation of the punishment has yet to come from FIFA.
The Ethiopian FF have no right to demand a neutral venue against the troubled CAR – South Africa had their match moved to Cameroon after 13 SANDF troops died in a well-documented coup there earlier in the year – and they may have to play in the capital Bangui, something of a footballing stronghold.
If Ethiopia draw or lose, South Africa – who believed all hope had gone on Sunday afternoon – would qualify for the final CAF play-offs for Brazil 2014 with a win over Botswana. Bafana will go in to the final round with a far superior goal difference (see tables below).
But the Zebras themselves aren’t out of it. With the three-point boost provided by Ethiopia's blunder, Botswana would qualify on goal difference if they beat Bafana Bafana in Johannesburg and Ethiopia lose in CAR.
Goal difference, rather than head-to-head as favoured in the African Cup of Nations, is the crucial factor in World Cup qualifiers. Many have questioned my judgemet on his, but here it is:
The official FIFA World Cup 2014 Regulations state in rule 49, paragraph 5:
The ranking of each team in each group shall be determined as follows:
a) greatest number of points obtained in all group matches;
b) goal difference in all group matches;
c) greatest number of goals scored in all group matches.