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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 12 December, 2018

Massive blow to Argentina's World Cup qualification hopes as Messi handed four-game ban

The Barcelona superstar has picked up the suspension for verbally abusing a referee’s assistant in the win over Chile.

Messi arguing with referee Sandro Ricci and his assistants.
Messi arguing with referee Sandro Ricci and his assistants.
Image: Victor R. Caivano

ARGENTINA WILL BE without captain Lionel Messi for tonight’s World Cup qualifier in Bolivia after he was hit with a four-match Fifa suspension for abusing a linesman.

The punishment relates to Messi’s actions during the closing stages of Argentina’s win at home to Chile last week, when the Barcelona star scored the only goal from the penalty spot.

The 29-year-old was penalised for a foul and proceeded to wave his arms and shout insults at the referee’s assistant Marcelo Van Gasse, with whom he refused to shake hands at the final whistle.

Initially, the incident was not included in referee Sandro Ricci’s report but was followed up by Fifa after video footage of Messi’s insult emerged and they asked both the officials and the Argentinian Football Association for their observations.

It means Argentina will also be without their talisman for next season’s qualifiers against Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru, with him only returning for the final game of the Conmebol section against Ecuador.

Messi has also been fined 10,000 Swiss francs and a statement from Fifa read:

“Footballer Lionel Messi has been found guilty of violating art. 57 of the FDC [FIFA Disciplinary Code] for having directed insulting words at an assistant referee.

“As a result, Lionel Messi will be suspended for four official matches and sanctioned with a fine of CHF 10,000.

“The first match for which the sanction will apply is the next fixture in the preliminary competition of the 2018 Fifa World Cup Russia between Bolivia and Argentina, which will be played today, 28 March.

The remainder of the sanction will be served over Argentina’s subsequent Fifa World Cup qualifying matches.

“This decision is in line with the Fifa Disciplinary Committee’s previous rulings in similar cases.

“Both the player and the Argentinian Football Association have been informed of the decision today.”

AFA disciplinary commission president Armando Perez told TyC Sports he was confident Messi would be available to face Bolivia amid La Paz’s punishing altitude but his absence adds to a considerable selection headache for head coach Edgardo Bauza.

Defender Nicolas Otamendi, midfielders Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia and striker Gonzalo Higuain were already suspended for the match after collecting bookings versus Chile, while full-backs Gabriel Mercado and Emmanuel Mas sustained respective hamstring and knee injuries last time out.

Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala are in line to replace Messi, with Argentina occupying the third of four automatic qualifying spots in the Conmebol section but needing to drastically improve on their record without the Barcelona superstar during the present campaign.

La Albiceleste have won five and lost one with Messi in the side, although that return falls to one victory, four draws and two defeats across two spells when he was sidelined through injury.

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