Barcelona star Lionel Messi was suspended for four Argentina matches by FIFA on Tuesday 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 will be forced to sit out Argentina’s next South American qualifying game against Bolivia, scheduled for later on Tuesday, with the remainder of the suspension served over his country’s subsequent World Cup qualifiers: in Uruguay on August 31, at home to Venezuela on September 5 and against Peru on October 5.
He 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).
The top four finishers qualify automatically for next year’s finals in Russia.
Argentina have won five of their six World Cup 2018 qualifiers with Messi but only one of seven without the Barcelona superstar.
They are only two points ahead of Ecuador and Chile in fifth and sixth, with Colombia only one point adrift in fourth