BANGKOK, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Soccer's world governing body FIFA has found itself tangled in a legal mess after the authority absolved Qatar of any blame for fielding an ineligible player in a World Cup qualifier.
FIFA's apparent flouting of its own rules has sparked cries of condemnation after a naturalised Brazilian named Emerson, who had already represented his birth country at youth level, played for the Gulf state in their 2-0 win over Iraq in March.
FIFA's rules state that anyone who has played for one country cannot represent another.
Despite the breach, Qatar progressed to the final round of Asian qualifying at Iraq's expense, denying the surprise Asian champions a chance to reach their first World Cup in 24 years.
"The result of that match should be nullified," Iraqi soccer president Hussein Saeed told Reuters recently.
"It is Iraq that should be awarded victory."
The issue is now with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and Iraq's lawyers believe they have a strong case.
Article 55 FDC of FIFA's competition rules states that any team "found guilty of fielding an ineligible player shall forfeit the match in question" and "victory and the resultant 3 points will be awarded to the opposing team".
Those three points would have put Iraq, not Qatar, in the next round.
Emerson, who was arrested in 2006 by Brazilian police for falsifying his age in his passport, has since been banned by FIFA but the Qatari federation was cleared of any wrongdoing.
FIFA said the tiny Gulf state was not to blame because it was unaware the globe-trotting Emerson, who has played on four continents, had represented Brazil under his former name, Marcio Passos De Albuquerque.
Iraq twice protested the decision but FIFA rejected their appeal, citing late submission of documents and fees.
"It is hard to imagine things going Iraq's way," John Duerden, Asia editor of soccer website goal.com, told Reuters.
"The fair thing to do is to give Iraq a 3-0 win for the match in question, as FIFA's rules stipulate... It would, of course, be a surprise if this actually happened."
FIFA said it was not willing to comment on the CAS case until the verdict had been announced.
Senior Qatari federation officials and members of its legal team did not return calls or respond to text messages when contacted by Reuters.
However, recent comments by Sheikh Hamad Khalifa al-Thani, the country's soccer president, suggest Qatar is confident FIFA's decision will not be overturned.
"The whole issue is not of our interest because we didn't make any mistake," he said.
"If there is any side who made a mistake then they should be punished, but that's not us."
Sources close to the case say FIFA has argued that the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) should have done a thorough background check of Emerson, whose questionable record was reported to FIFA by Japan in 2005 when he played for Urawa Reds.
FIFA's disciplinary committee referred to Swiss law in overriding article 55 FDC, concluding that it was right not to sanction Qatar, who had been given false information and should therefore be absolved of blame.
"The confidence of the Qatari Football Association has to be protected," FIFA stated in an extract from a case document seen by Reuters. "Article 55 FDC cannot be applied."
The handling of the case has incensed many Iraqis and prompted hundreds of web postings accusing oil-rich Qatar of abusing the power it has in Asian soccer, in particular, the close ties shared by the AFC's Qatari president Mohamed Bin Hammam and his FIFA counterpart Sepp Blatter.
By contrast, the issue is barely mentioned in Qatar and the media has steered clear of the story.
Iraq's Brazilian coach Jorvan Vieira has given up hope of going to the 2010 finals and few believe unfashionable Iraq will win the case, for which a verdict is expected within two weeks.
"This certainly does no favours for FIFA's reputation," added Duerden, an Asian soccer writer.
"When Iraqi players take the pitch in the Confederations Cup next year along with FIFA's fair play flags, they won't be the only ones shaking their heads."