Football: Lifeline for S.Africa as Ethiopia lose qualifying points

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - The South African men's football team returned on Monday to the race for places at the 2014 World Cup, after Ethiopia forfeited three points for fielding an ineligible player.

A Fifa statement said Botswana, who lost at home to Ethiopia in June, had been awarded a 3-0 win because their opponents fielded suspended midfielder Minyahile Beyene.

The Ethiopian had been yellow carded in two other qualifiers, earning an automatic one-match suspension, and officials of the Walyas Antelopes admitted it was their blunder.

Ethiopia still top Group A with 10 points followed by South Africa (8), Botswana (7) and the Central African Republic (3), but are no longer guaranteed to finish first and reach the 10-team play-offs for five spots.

The three-point deduction from the Ethiopian total brings South Africa, who have competed at three of the last four World Cup tournaments, back into contention, and Botswana too.

Ethiopia will top the final standings if they win a final mini-league match away to the Central African Republic from Sept 6 to 10 at a venue to be decided by Fifa.

A violent regime change in the Central African Republic this year created an unstable security situation, forcing a match with South Africa last month to be moved from Bangui to Cameroon.

However, if Ethiopia draw or lose, South Africa would top the table either on points or goal difference provided they win at home against neighbours Botswana.

A two-goal win for Botswana in South Africa would squeeze them into the play-offs on goal difference should Ethiopia lose to the Central African Republic.

The South African Bafana Bafana (The Boys) qualified for the World Cup in 1998 and 2002 and were automatic participants in 2010 as hosts.