In the last round of CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifiers, Argentina beat Ecuador handily, thanks mostly to Lionel Messi’s stellar hat trick. However, news surfaced Friday that hints at Jorge Sampaoli’s Albiceleste side getting a helping hand from some of Ecuador’s biggest stars. 5 players have been suspended by the Ecuadorian soccer federation (FEF) for indiscipline, after sneaking out of their team hotel to party, prior to their 3-1 defeat in Quito.
Tuesday’s game was a pivotal one for Argentina, as it needed at least a draw–but more likely, a win–to keep World Cup hopes alive. On the other hand, Ecuador had been eliminated prior to the last set of games, and with nothing to play for, some of the squad apparently didn’t take preparation for the game seriously, instead looking for an opportunity to have fun.
Among those who are being suspended for partying the night before the match are Enner Valencia, Jefferson Orejuela, Robert Arboleda, Gabriel Cortés and Joao Plata. Valencia and Arboleda especially stand out, as they are, respectively, the country’s best striker and best defender.
The FEF spoke on their decision to suspend the five players in a statement on Friday: “Once [Ecuador coach] Jorge Celico’s report was with us, with the details of all the facts, the committee decide unanimously to suspend indefinitely the five players involved from all Ecuadorian national team activities.”
After taking a lead in the opening 37 seconds of the contest, Ecuador faded away, allowing Messi to run rampant. Los Amarillos started out qualifying hot, winning their first four matches, but fizzled out–winning only two of their next fourteen–to miss out on the World Cup after barely missing out on the knockout round of the 2014 tournament. Ecuador finished in 8th place out of 10 in CONMEBOL qualifying this time around, their lowest finish since the confederation switched to a round-robin format for the 1998 World Cup.