Argentina suffers as FIFA sends CONMEBOL qualifiers into chaos

Lionel Messi did not suffer an injury in Barcelona's Champions league defeat to Manchester City. Even so, Tuesday was a bad day for the Argentine national team.

They began the day fifth in South America's World Cup table. With 10 of the 18 games already played, the Albiceleste were in the playoff position. If they were still there come the end of the competition, then this time next year Edgardo Bauza's men would be facing opponents from Oceania over two legs for the right to claim one of the final places at Russia 2018.

But Argentina ended the day down in sixth. Through no extra fault of their own, they are now outside the qualification places. If their position does not improve by the end of the campaign, then this time next year they will be resigned to watching the World Cup on television.

Argentina have fallen because Chile have risen -- because Bolivia have slipped up.

Two months ago, Bolivia included centre-back Nelson Cabrera in their squad to face Peru at home and Chile away. The 33-year-old was born in Paraguay -- indeed, he had once represented the national team of the land of his birth. But since that match in 2007 was only a friendly, he was still able to play for another national team. He moved to Bolivia at the start of 2013, and, in accordance with Bolivian law, he became a naturalised citizen early this year.

He made two appearances in the Copa Centenario in June, and though coach Julio Cesar Baldivieso was sacked afterwards, he remained in the plans of replacement Angel Guillermo Hoyos.

Cabrera came on for the last 10 minutes of Bolivia's 2-0 win against Peru, and featured in the last 15 of the 0-0 draw with Chile.

Soon afterwards, there were whispers of a problem. Cabrera may have fulfilled Bolivian criteria for representing the national team, but, it seemed, the same was not true of FIFA regulations -- which require a five-year period of continuous residence in order for a player to be naturalised.

Ruling Cabrera ineligible, FIFA docked Bolivia the points they won in the two games the defender featured in. They went further, awarding both matches to Bolivia's opponents by a 3-0 margin. And so Peru, in frankly ludicrous circumstances, can claim their first away win in World Cup qualification for over 12 years. They are still unlikely to make it to Russia, and Bolivia have next to no chance, and so in these two cases the changing distribution of the points makes little difference.

That is emphatically not the case with the two extra points (and three extra goals) which have been awarded to Chile. At the stroke of a pen, the Chileans climb from sixth to fifth in the table. They are now level on points with Argentina but, thanks to goals they did not score, they now -- somewhat absurdly -- move above them on goal difference.

There was an immediate reaction from the Bolivian FA, with vice president Mario Peredo and treasurer Cliver Rocha announcing their resignations. President Rolando Lopez refused to join them, arguing that his organisation had not the slightest intention of gaining an unfair advantage from the selection of Cabrera.

This will be one of the points made in the appeal, which will probably be made and which could go all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Bolivia's case may also rest on an understanding that in cases of player illegibility, any protests should be made within 24 hours of the game, which did not happen in this instance.

The chances that Bolivia will appeal are made all the stronger by the fact that such a move is bound to receive full support from those nations competing with Chile for a place at the World Cup. As we have seen, Argentina are most affected, and the Buenos Aires press has gone into overdrive. It has been common to hear that the current situation would never have occurred if Julio Grondona were still alive. Highly influential behind the scenes, Grondona died in 2014. Since then, Argentina's FA has been in a state of chaos.

The Ecuadorian FA made its displeasure clear, and Paraguay and Colombia are also expected to put their weight behind the protests. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, it would be sad indeed if the most competitive World Cup qualification campaign on the planet was to be decided by points awarded in a tribunal rather than won or lost on a pitch.