IT is proof that even one of the world’s best soccer players is not above the law.
Argentina and Barcelona star Lionel Messi has been hit with a four-game ban by football’s governing body FIFA and fined $10,000 after verbally abusing a match official while on international duty.
The 29-year-old learned of his fate just hours before his country’s crucial qualifying clash with Bolivia. He will also miss upcoming games against Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela.
Messi became animated at the end of Argentina’s 1-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Chile on March 24 — a game settled by the forward’s first-half penalty.
After being flagged for a foul, he waved his arms and sent a volley of verbal abuse at the referee’s assistant.
It is a severe blow to Argentina’s hopes of qualifying automatically for Russia 2018, given how poor its record is without Barca’s talisman.
The top four teams in South American qualifying advance to next summer’s tournament, while the team that finishes fifth goes into a playoff.
Argentina are currently third, but only three points separates sixth-place Chile and Uruguay in second.
Messi won’t return to international duty until Argentina’s final fixture against Ecuador, by which time the damage could already be done.
Prior to FIFA’s announcement, football expert Greg Stobart told CNN’s World Sport Show: “Argentina are totally dependent on him (Messi).
“He’s missed quite a few qualifying games through injury — seven matches and they’ve only won one of them.
“With Messi in the side, they’ve played six and won five. If he’s suspended for two, three, four games they are in real trouble of failing to qualify.” – CNN