Lionel Messi's international ban overturned by FIFA
Lionel Messi is free to represent Argentina in their forthcoming World Cup qualifiers after his suspension for allegedly abusing an assistant referee was overturned on appeal.
The 29-year-old Barcelona playmaker was banned from four international matches and fined 10,000 Swiss francs (£8,100) for supposedly “having directed insulting words” at an official during Argentina's World Cup qualifying match against Chile on March 23.
He was suspended for the subsequent 2-0 loss to Bolivia as a result, but will be available as Argentina prepare for crucial meetings with Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru as they fight to secure a place at next summer's World Cup finals in Russia.
A statement from the sport's world governing body FIFA read: “The FIFA appeal committee has upheld the appeal lodged by the Argentinian Football Association, on behalf of the player Lionel Messi, against the decision taken by the FIFA disciplinary committee, lifting the sanctions imposed on him as a result.”
During the Chile match, Messi was caught on camera venting his fury at an assistant who signalled he had committed a foul late on in Argentina's 1-0 win. He was not shown a card at the time.
Despite upholding Argentina's appeal, the FIFA committee stressed it “considered Messi's behaviour as reproachable” but concluded “the evidence available was not sufficient to establish” an infringement had occurred.
The statement continued: “The Appeal Committee nevertheless underlines the importance of always showing respect to the match officials, stressing that such a principle is essential in football and any unsporting conduct that may be contrary to the principles of fair play cannot be accepted.”
When Messi was first punished, his club Barcelona released an angry statement expressing their “surprise and outrage”, adding that the player was an “exemplary sportsman”.
His fresh availability for international duty could be a missed blessing for Barca, however.Argentina, currently without a head coach following the April departure of Edgardo Bauza, risk missing out on automatic qualification for the 2018 World Cup and so the trip to Uruguay in late August will be vital.
By the time the Albiceleste tackle Peru in October they will have hoped to climb into the top four places in the CONMEBOL standings, with the country that finishes fifth facing a play-off against the winners of the Oceania section.