Lionel Messi is banned from Argentina’s next four World Cup qualifying games, for “having directed insulting words at an assistant referee” during a home qualifier against Chile last week. Messi was dealt the suspension and a fine of 10,000 Swiss francs (8,104 pounds) by FIFA’s disciplinary panel and is due to miss three more of Argentina’s remaining four World Cup qualifiers after sitting out Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to Bolivia.
The five-time FIFA player of the year can now only appeals to FIFA. He will now return for Argentina’s final match in the 10-team South American qualifying group, hosting Ecuador on October 10.
“FC Barcelona expresses its surprise and indignation at the decision by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee to suspend Leo Messi following the FIFA World Cup qualifying fixture between Argentina and Chile,” the club said. “The club considers the four-match suspension imposed on the Argentine player to be unfair and totally disproportionate.
“Finally, FC Barcelona wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct, both on and off the pitch.” Also, Jorge Miadosqui, Argentina’s national team’s director are in support of Messi. He says “We have to appeal this decision, we’ll see how it goes. But we’re left angry and sad because (Messi) will not be with the team.”
Argentina has relied on its captain Messi to move up to third place in a group where the top four qualify for the tournament in Russia. The fifth-place team will enter a playoff in November, likely against New Zealand. Messi has scored in four qualifiers so far, with Argentina going on to win every game. Without him, though, Argentina has earned only seven points out of a possible 21.
After facing last-place Bolivia, Argentina will travel to play Uruguay on August 31. Then it has two home games against struggling sides: Venezuela on September 5 and Peru on October 5.
It was close to a must-win match last Thursday when Argentina hosted Chile, the team it lost to in the Copa America finals of 2015 and 2016. Argentina won 1-0 after Messi scored with a first-half penalty at the vibrant Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires, but he lost his cool in the closing minutes. Messi reacted angrily when a decision went against him and aimed a volley of profane abuse at the assistant. He refused to shake hands with the official after the match.
FIFA could intervene as the incident was not initially reported by the Brazilian referee. It was judged a red-card offense for Messi. “This decision is in line with the FIFA Disciplinary Committee’s previous rulings in similar cases,” said the world soccer body.
The Messi ban adds further turmoil to the embattled Argentina soccer federation, which is currently being run by an emergency committee appointed by FIFA last June. A previous generation of Argentine soccer leaders was implicated in corruption and indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015, and subsequent federation elections were disputed. New elections are scheduled this week.
Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are in a career-long duel for the game’s most prestigious prize, and the Portugal and Real Madrid forward won his fourth FIFA award in January to draw within one of his great rivals. In a stark contrast to soccer’s global stars, Messi has been shamed this week while Ronaldo was rewarded with the airport on his home island of Madeira being named in his honor.