With just hours to go before Argentina face Bolivia in La Paz, FIFA have dealt Lionel Messi a four-match ban that will see him miss all but one of their five remaining World Cup qualification matches.
As Edgardo Bauza and co were making preparations for this evening’s crucial game in La Paz – where, due to the altitude, the national side have notoriously struggled in the past – the thought of losing their star player to suspension would not have crossed their minds.
It was announced this morning, however, that football’s governing body, FIFA, have handed Messi the retrospective four-match ban on the back of television footage, which shows the player insulting assistant referee Dewson Silva during Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile.
The incident occurred at the end of the game, during the last minute of stoppage time, in which Messi appeared to aim the age-old “concha de tu madre” [literally, “your mother’s vagina”] insult at linesman Silva. Messi then refused to shake the official’s hand at full-time.
— AS English (@English_AS) March 28, 2017
The altercation was not included in referee Sandro Ricci’s match report, however, with the Brazilian saying “”I didn’t hear any offensive language from Lionel Messi or anyone else towards myself”.
“If I heard any offensive words, I would acted according to the rules of the game” [i.e. Messi would have been shown a card]
Had the incident been dealt with at the time and included in the match report, it is unlikely FIFA would have taken such a strong stance. As it wasn’t, FIFA are inclined to use such retrospective action to deal with the matter and, perhaps, make an example of Messi, in order to try and crack down on insulting language towards officials – a prominent issue throughout world football.
Lionel Messi suspended for four matches: https://t.co/jV2OojGQ36
— FIFA Media (@fifamedia) March 28, 2017
The ban means the Barcelona forward will miss Argentina’s games against Venezuela, Uruguay and Peru, as well as tonight’s fixture at La Paz’s Estadio Hernando Siles – the highest football stadium in the world. He will next be allowed to feature against Ecuador in October.
The Albiceleste lost 6-1 there under Diego Maradona, in qualification for the 2010 World Cup. In 2013, Messi and Ángel Di María both had to be supplied with oxygen.
Argentina will also be without Gonzalo Higuian, Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia and Nicolas Otamendi tonight, who are suspended after collecting yellow cards.