Ethiopia were stripped of three points in World Cup qualifying by FIFA on Monday for fielding an ineligible player in a game against Botswana, handing South Africa a lifeline for next year's tournament in Brazil.
FIFA said Ethiopia forfeited their 2-1 win in Botswana on June 8 because Minyahile Beyene played in that game when he was suspended for receiving two yellow cards in earlier qualifiers. FIFA has awarded the match to Botswana 3-0.
The sanction means Ethiopia are now only two points ahead of South Africa and three ahead of Botswana and not guaranteed a place in Africa's final playoffs for the World Cup ahead of the final round of Group A games in September.
FIFA's disciplinary committee also fined Ethiopia's federation $6,348.
The Ethiopian Football Federation is unlikely to appeal the punishment having already admitted that Minyahile should not have played in Botswana.
Minyahile was allowed to play because of an administrative blunder where officials "forgot'' he was suspended, the federation said.
Ethiopia went on to beat South Africa 2-1 at home in their latest game on June 16 and thought then that they had qualified for the 10-team playoffs, which will decide Africa's five countries at the World Cup in Brazil. Ethiopia have never played at the World Cup.
However, FIFA opened disciplinary proceedings against Ethiopia over Minyahile on the same day they joyously celebrated their progress.
South Africa, the 2010 World Cup hosts, are on eight points and at home to Botswana in the final round of games on September 6. Ethiopia, now on 10 points, face an away game against Central African Republic, which could be played in neutral territory because of ongoing unrest in the country.
Botswana, now with seven points, have an outside chance of qualifying for the playoffs if they beat South Africa and Ethiopia lose to Central African Republic, which cannot qualify.
FIFA also is investigating two other African countries - Togo and Equatorial Guinea - for allegedly fielding ineligible players in World Cup qualifying, which could throw two other groups into chaos.
Togo could forfeit their 2-0 win over Cameroon in Group I, which would put Cameroon above Libya and in pole position to take that group's spot in the playoffs.
Equatorial Guinea could forfeit points to Cape Verde in Group B, meaning Tunisia's progress to the playoffs is not yet certain.