Only a matter of hours before Argentina are scheduled to kick off against Bolivia FIFA have announced that Lionel Messi will serve a four-match suspension for his foul-mouthed rant at linesman Marcelo Van Gasse during Thursday evening’s victory over Chile.
Given that referee Sandro Ricci didn’t include the incident in his original report, it only came to light on Monday leaving FIFA to inexplicably announce the punishment, five hours prior to Argentina’s crunch World Cup qualifier in La Paz.
Messi will now sit out the match against Bolivia but will also be unavailable for four of the remaining five matches, including games against Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru.
The FIFA statement read: “The Fifa Disciplinary Committee has reached a decision in relation to the case of Lionel Messi following an incident that occurred during the match between Argentina and Chile on 23 March 2017.
“Lionel Messi has been found guilty of violating art. 57 of the FDC for having directed insulting words at an assistant referee.
“As a result, Messi will be suspended for four official matches and sanctioned with a fine of 10,000 Swiss Francs. 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 World Cup qualifying matches.
“This decision is in line with the Fifa Disciplinary Committee’s previous rulings in similar cases.”
Argentina plan on appealing the decision to at least have the suspension cut to two matches but either way it has made an already very unclear qualification even tougher.
The victory over Chile lifted Edgardo Bauza’s side to third but with only three points separating Uruguay in second and Chile in sixth, there is still a great deal of work to do even just to guarantee the fifth-placed playoff spot.
Argentina have been far from convincing throughout the qualification process and were dreadful against Chile on Thursday but most worrying is that with Lionel Messi, La Albiceleste have won four and lost one; without their captain, Argentina have won only once, drawn four and lost two.
If Messi remains suspended and Argentina maintain that form, hopes of qualifying for Russia 2018 are slim.