ZURICH - Tiny Cape Verde, the feel-good story of African football this year, was thrown out of the final World Cup qualifying playoffs after FIFA ruled Thursday that the island nation fielded an ineligible player in a decisive qualifying win over Tunisia.
Tunisia, now without a coach after Nabil Maaloul quit and criticized his players following the country's apparent failure, was instead awarded a 3-0 victory by forfeit and reinstated to Africa's 10-team playoffs, which will be drawn on Monday and start next month.
Cape Verde ironically benefited from ineligible player sanctions against Equatorial Guinea earlier in qualifying to have the chance to overtake Tunisia, but was found guilty by FIFA's disciplinary committee of using suspended defender Fernando Varela in its 2-0 win in Rades on Saturday in the decisive final round of group games. That saw the Cape Verdeans move ahead of then-leader Tunisia to win the group.
Africa's five representatives in Brazil next year will be decided in the playoffs. Cape Verde was looking to reach the World Cup for the first time.
FIFA said Varela was ineligible because he had not fully served a four-game ban for a red card in a qualifier in March, which was also one of two games Cape Verde was awarded 3-0 by FIFA because of Equatorial Guinea's ineligible player.
Tunisia complained formally to FIFA earlier Thursday over Varela's participation and the Cape Verdean Football Federation was stripped of the win and its playoff place and fined 6,000 Swiss francs ($6,447), FIFA said. The federation can appeal the decision.
A country with only half a million people and limited football resources, Cape Verde won over many fans this year after it qualified for the African Cup for the first time in its history and surprised by reaching the quarterfinals before losing to Ghana. However, it became the seventh country in Africa's beleaguered World Cup qualifying competition to be sanctioned by FIFA for fielding an ineligible player, with Ethiopia, Togo, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Gabon all also forfeiting games.
The disciplinary case against Cape Verde delayed FIFA's publishing of its latest monthly world rankings by several hours Thursday. The rankings will be used to decide which five African teams are seeded for next week's playoff draw. Tunisia will now join Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria and Nigeria as the five seeded teams in the draw. Egypt, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Senegal and Ethiopia will be unseeded.
Maaloul , theTunisia coach, had apologized and resigned following the 2-0 home loss to Cape Verde, when the Tunisian fans booed their own team.
"My players were totally hopeless," Maaloul said. "There were eight of the 11 who did not take any responsibility."