* Ethiopia face likely three-point penalty for ineligible player
* Could still qualify for 2014 World Cup
* World Cup door reopens for South Africa and Botswana (Adds detail, background)
By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA, June 18 (Reuters) - Ethiopia soccer officials have admitted fielding an ineligible player in a World Cup qualifier and are resigned to being stripped of three points, potentially handing South Africa and Botswana a 2014 lifeline.
“We have evaluated the situation and we came across the issue that we made a mistake,” Ethiopian Football Federation president Sahilu Gebremariam told Reuters.
Soccer’s world governing body FIFA announced on Sunday it was investigating allegations that Ethiopia had fielded an ineligible player in a qualifier against Botswana on June 8.
The announcement came hours after a 2-1 win over South Africa in Addis Ababa secured them top place in Group A and a place in the final phase of the African qualifiers for the 2014 finals in Brazil.
That win also appeared to have ended the hopes of 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa and Botswana reaching next year’s finals as Ethiopia had opened up what was an unassailable five-point lead in the group.
However, a place in the final round of qualifying will once again be up for grabs from Group A if, as expected, Ethiopia are docked three points for including a suspended player in their line-up on June 8.
If the points are redistributed, Ethiopia will have 10 points, South Africa will be on eight and Botswana on seven with each team having one match left to play in Round 2.
Ethiopia should not have fielded Minyahile Beyene in their 2-1 win in Botswana on June 8 as the midfielder was suspended for the match after picking up two yellow cards in previous qualifiers.
He was yellow carded in the 1-1 draw with South Africa last June, and then again in a 1-0 win over Botswana in March.
World Cup rules dictate that once a player has received two cautions in the qualifying campaign, he has an automatic one-match ban.
“We accepted the allegation, that this was inappropriate. There won’t be an appeal from us being lodged,” added Gebremariam.
‘We are not frustrated at all since we are still leading the group. The only thing to do now is to concentrate for the next game. I am confident that we will do our best.”
In their last Round 2 matches on September 6, Ethiopia play away against Central African Republic, while South Africa host Botswana.
Africa has seen an unprecedented number of disciplinary actions from FIFA against countries in the 2014 qualifying campaign.
Burkina Faso and Gabon lost points for fielding Cameroon-born players who were ineligible to play for their national teams and Sudan lost three points for using a suspended player.
There also cases pending against Equatorial Guinea, for using imported players from Brazil and Colombia in their recent World Cup qualifiers, and Togo, who played with an ineligible player when they beat Cameroon earlier this month. (Additonal reporting by Mark Gleeson, editing by Drazen Jorgic and Pritha Sarkar)