ZURICH, Switzerland – Barcelona star Lionel Messi was suspended for 4 Argentina matches by FIFA on Tuesday, March 28 for swearing at an assistant referee, a ban that will see the striker miss out on decisive qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup.
Messi was found guilty of "having directed insulting words at an assistant referee" in the World Cup qualifier against Chile last Thursday which Argentina won 1-0 thanks to a penalty from the Barcelona hitman.
Messi was forced to sit out Argentina's South American qualifying game against Bolivia on Tuesday, where his team crashed to a 2-0 defeat, dealing a fresh blow to their World Cup qualification campaign.
The remainder of the suspension will be served over Argentina's subsequent World Cup qualifiers: in Uruguay on August 31, at home to Venezuela on September 5 and against Peru on October 5.
Messi was also fined 10,000 Swiss francs (9,350 euros, $10,170), with FIFA saying: "This decision is in line with the FIFA Disciplinary Committee's previous rulings in similar cases."
"We are going to appeal," said Armando Perez, president of the Argentine FA's interim board.
He acknowledged that Messi "made a mistake by insulting" the linesman, but argued that FIFA's sanction was disproportionate.
"This is more political than anything else," he said.
The AFA's national squad selection secretary Jorge Miasdoqui called the ban "a blow, and unfair".
"There are precedents that give reason to believe the sanction could be reduced," he told reporters at a hotel in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, where the squad was en route to the capital La Paz for Tuesday's game.
"They have cut the legs off Messi and the Argentine national team."
Miasdoqui noted that Messi had not been warned or sanctioned by the referee of the Chile match at the time of the outburst, and nothing had been mentioned in the referee's match report.
"We feel powerless, surprised," added Miasdoqui.
"I'm angry, Messi is sad, like us. He could have played, he travelled to play, he should have played."
Argentina's victory over Chile left them in third place overall in the 10-team South American qualifying competition for the World Cup with 22 points from 13 games, behind Brazil (30) and Uruguay (23).
But after the latest defeat to Bolivia, they could drop to fifth – outside the automatic qualifying positions – if Colombia and Chile win later Tuesday.
The top 4 finishers qualify automatically for next year's finals in Russia.
Before the Bolivia match, Argentina won 5 of their 6 World Cup 2018 qualifiers with Messi but only one of 7 without the Barcelona superstar. – Rappler.com