Chile has lost its appeal to replace Ecuador at the World Cup in Qatar, but Friday's verdict by FIFA will likely lead the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
FIFA dismissed Chile’s argument that Ecuador player Byron Castillo was actually Colombian and ineligible to play in World Cup qualifying games. Castillo played in eight of them for Ecuador.
FIFA said its appeal judges "deemed that on the basis of the documents presented, the player was to be considered as holding permanent Ecuadorian nationality in accordance" with football's legal statutes.
The verdict, which upholds a FIFA disciplinary ruling from June, keeps Ecuador on track to play Qatar in the opening game of the World Cup in Doha on Nov. 20. The Netherlands and Senegal are also in Group A.
"In silence, we continue to defend what we achieved on the pitch," Ecuadorian football federation president Francisco Egas wrote on Twitter.
However, Chile’s legal challenge can continue.
The Chilean football federation can now appeal against FIFA’s verdict to CAS in Lausanne, Switzerland. Sport’s highest court can organize an urgent hearing and ruling in the nine weeks left until the World Cup starts.
Chile claimed to have evidence proving Castillo is Colombian and should never have played for Ecuador.
Chile prepared its case after the World Cup draw was made on April 1, and after FIFA and Qatari organizers sold thousands of tickets and accommodation rooms to Ecuador fans.
Had Ecuador forfeited all eight games Castillo played, Chile would have risen to the fourth automatic qualification place in the South American qualifying group. Ecuador would have dropped out of contention.
FIFA’s legal statues include a section on national team eligibility when a state government has granted citizenship to players.
"Any person holding a permanent nationality that is not dependent on residence in a certain country is eligible to play for the representative teams of the association of that country," according to the statutes.
Castillo’s lawyer, Andrés Holguín, said his player had no doubt about the result.
"We always knew we were going to win this case," Holguín told The Associated Press. "Today is a simple ratification of something we knew would succeed."
The appeal hearing on Thursday was held remotely from Zurich with only the three judges present. The chief judge overseeing the case was Neil Eggleston, an American who is a former White House Counsel in the second administration of Barack Obama.
The FIFA appeals committee rarely overturns a ruling by the football body’s disciplinary committee.
Chile has filed complaints against an opponent’s player in back-to-back World Cup qualifying programs.
In the 2018 World Cup qualifying group, Bolivia forfeited two games in which it fielded an ineligible player as a late substitute. FIFA got complaints from Chile and Peru about Bolivia defender Nelson Cabrera, who was born in Paraguay and had previously played for Paraguay’s national team.
Bolivia lost an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which said FIFA was right to investigate even when protests were filed weeks after the games were played.
That case ultimately harmed Chile. Three extra points awarded to Peru lifted it above Chile and into an intercontinental playoff that it won to advance to the 2018 tournament in Russia.
FIFA then wrote stricter rules for the 2022 World Cup requiring all players in qualifying games to produce a "valid permanent international passport" for inspection by match officials.