The fairytale progress of tiny Cape Verde Islands to the last round of African World Cup qualifiers turned into a nightmare on Thursday when FIFA found them guilty of fielding an ineligible player and turfed them out of the competition.
Their place in the final round playoffs will be taken by Tunisia, who the Cape Verdians had sensationally eliminated at the weekend to win their group with a shock 2-0 win in Tunis.
Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul quit in the wake of the embarrassing setback.
Because Cape Verde fielded the defender Fernando Varela, who should have sat out the match after being sent off in a qualifier in March, the match has been forfeited and awarded 3-0 in favour of Tunisia, FIFA said in a statement.
It means Tunisia finish top of Group B and will play in the final round of the qualifiers next month and in November. The 10 group winners go into a draw on Monday to determine the pairings for the five playoff matches from which the winners will go to Brazil next year.
The Cape Verde have also been fined $6,400 after a meeting of the FIFA disciplinary committee.
The latest administrative mix-up continues a bizarre sequence of similar failings that have already seen Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Sudan and Togo all sanctioned for using ineligible players during the 2014 qualifiers.
The Cape Verde had ironically gained six points from their two group matches against Equatorial Guinea by similar sanction, which put them back in contention to win the group after Tunisia had in June seemingly sewn up top place.
The Cape Verde, who had already produced giant killing results earlier this year in reaching the quarter-finals of the African Nations Cup, caused another big shock with a win on Saturday to usurp Tunisia in the standings.