When is a win, not a win? When it is in South America with its prime competitions being delegitimised due to database disorganisation

Some sort of scandal, misdemeanour or embarrassing blunder never seem far away where South American football associations are concerned and this week the continent’s governing body CONMEBOL is trying to save face after a series of administrative errors in cup competitions.

At the heart of FIFA-gate since president Juan Ángel Napout was arrested in 2015, controversy still looms over CONMEBOL but while many view this latest episode through a conspiratorial lens it would be perhaps fairer to simply label the organisation as completely incompetent. 

The fresh gaffe relates to player suspensions in two continental competitions – its marquee event, the Copa Libertadores and its Europa League equivalent the Copa Sudamericana. Something as simple as stating which players are eligible to play has proved too complicated and led to a week of controversy that could still get worse.

And it wasn’t as if CONMEBOL weren’t given a warning in last year’s Copa Libertadores. Beaten finalists Lanús topped their group earlier in the tournament in part thanks to Chapecoense fielding the ineligible Luiz Otávio during a 2-1 win. A victory subsequently awarded as a 3-0 win for Lanús.

Such an incident in the continent’s biggest tournament should never happen but every measure should have been taken to ensure there was no repeat.

However, less than one month ago Chilean club Deportes Temuco claimed a famous first leg win over San Lorenzo in Buenos Aires in the Copa Sudamericana.

The Argentinean club had it all to do ahead of the second leg and it was then brought to attention that recently signed Jonathan Requena had been registered with his former club Defensa y Justicia and was therefore ineligible.

Temuco claimed that CONMEBOL’s database didn’t list this and they were unaware but with the responsibility lying with the clubs, a 3-0 victory was awarded meaning with a second leg defeat too, San Lorenzo still progressed.

If the furious Chileans weren’t bad enough the Copa Libertadores last 16 only further muddied the waters.

Brazilian giants claimed a valuable goalless draw away to Independiente only to discover that midfielder Carlos Sánchez had an outstanding ban dating back to 2015. The Uruguayan was sent off shortly before leaving River Plate and after some years in Mexico signed with Santos and was therefore back under CONMEBOL’s umbrella.

Santos too checked the database and were unaware of Sánchez’s suspension but Independiente were able to submit their complaint within the CONMEBOL deadline of 24 hours and the indications are that this too will be a victory for El Rojo.

But as the digging continued, River Plate also fell foul. Bruno Zuculini has farcically played in all seven matches and after coming on against former club Racing Club next month was in line to start again next week. However, the former Manchester City midfielder was sent off for Racing in 2013 and was supposed to be ruled out for two matches on his return to South America.

Surely River too will be punished in the same way? No, while the ruling on Santos is still pending, CONMEBOL have already put Los Millonarios in the clear.

River had written to CONMEBOL in February prior to the group stage to ask for clarification and have in writing that only Ignacio Fernández was suspended at the time. As a result Zuculini played throughout the group stage and with none of the opposition aware there was no complaint lodged.

CONMEBOL admit this oversight and while Racing could force the issue further now to FIFA, as it stands Zuculini will simply serve his suspension now ahead of the second leg and the goalless draw from Avellaneda will stand.

Santos are pushing for the same punishment but have no such written evidence from CONMEBOL, their opponents reported it within 24 hours and a more severe punishment doesn’t have any knock-on effects from Sánchez also playing in the group stages.

A potential legal case with Racing, another one from Santos or alternatively from Independiente and Temuco is hardly a good look for a federation trying to rid itself of its shambolic reputation from recent years.

Ambiguous in their instructions, chaotic in their actions and simply disorganised to the point of incompetence. Whatever the outcome a shadow is already cast on a competition that CONMEBOL have been so desperate to bring to a larger global market.


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