Just 75 days from now, host nation Qatar will begin the 2022 World Cup by kicking off against Ecuador, with the South Americans having qualified for their fourth-ever crack at football’s biggest tournament.
Or will they…?
The Chilean Football Association has claimed it has “compelling evidence” that a player who represented Ecuador in eight of their 18 qualifying games was in fact born and raised in Colombia and that his Ecuadorian documentation is “forged”.
Last week, FIFA said it would hear the case on September 15 with the presence of Byron Castillo required at the hearing.
Whoever makes the finals, which are controversial for the reasons explained in this article, will face the hosts in that opener on November 20 plus the Netherlands and African champions Senegal in group A.
“We have provided a significant amount of evidence to FIFA proving that the player was born in Colombia and his Ecuadorian birth certificate is fake,” says Eduardo Carlezzo, the lawyer representing the Chilean FA. “Finally, on September 15, Byron Castillo has the opportunity to explain the situation and then, for the sake of fair play, justice can take its course.”
According to Ecuadorian media, the country’s FA strongly deny the accusations and support the player and his role in the team and, after the initial complaint was dismissed by FIFA, the FA president said “justice has been done”.
Meanwhile, the World Cup edges ever closer and a whole range of companies prepare their tournament content and inventory featuring Ecuador, while their fans plan trips almost 9,000 miles (14,000km) to the other side of the planet for that opener in the 60,000-capacity Al-Bayt Stadium and beyond.
So could it really happen?
Based on conversations with people close to the case, here’s what’s going on…