Thu, Mar 30, 2017 - Page 16 News List

FIFA bans Lionel Messi, Argentina lose without him

AP, GENEVA, Switzerland

Argentina’s Lionel Messi arrives at the Estadio Hernando Siles ahead of their FIFA World Cup qualifier against Bolivia in La Paz, Bolivia, on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

Lionel Messi was banned from four World Cup qualifying games, dealing a blow to a campaign by Argentina that has stuttered without him.

Messi’s suspension for “having directed insulting words at an assistant referee” during a home qualifier last week against Chile started on Tuesday, shortly before his teammates played Bolivia in La Paz.

Without Messi, Argentina lost the qualifier 2-0.

The five-time FIFA player of the year can appeal to FIFA, but is on track to return for Argentina’s final match in the 10-team South American qualifying group, hosting Ecuador on Oct. 10.

“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 national teams director Jorge Miadosqui said.

It was close to a must-win match on Thursday last week when Argentina hosted Chile, the team they lost to in the Copa America finals of 2015 and last year.

Argentina won 1-0 after Messi scored with a first-half penalty at the Estadio Monumental 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, which also fined Messi 10,000 Swiss francs (US$10,160).

Argentina have relied on captain Messi to move up to fifth place in a group where the top four qualify for the tournament in Russia.

The fifth-placed team 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, they have earned only seven points out of a possible 24.

Argentina’s next match is away to Uruguay on Aug. 31 before two home games against struggling sides: Venezuela on Sept. 5 and Peru on Oct. 5.

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