Lionel Messi is banned from Argentina’s next four World Cup qualifying games, dealing a blow to a campaign by the 2014 runner-up 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 yesterday, shortly before his teammates played Bolivia in La Paz.
Without Messi, Argentina went on to lose to Bolivia 2-0.
The five-time FIFA player of the year can appeal to FIFA, but can 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,” said Jorge Miadosqui, Argentina’s national team director. “But we’re left angry and sad because [Messi] will not be with the team.”
Argentina had relied on its captain Messi to move up to third place in a group where the top four qualify for the tournament in Russia. But Argentina now is in fifth place after the loss with Chile moving into fourth place with a win over Venezuela. The team finishing in fifth place enters a playoff in November, likely against New Zealand.
Messi had scored in four qualifiers so far, with Argentina going on to win every game. Without him, though, Argentina has earned only seven points out of a possible 24. Argentina’s next match is away to Uruguay on Aug. 31. Then it has two home games against struggling sides: Venezuela on Sept. 5 and Peru on Oct. 5.
Messi reacted angrily when a decision went against him and aimed a volley of profane abuse at the assistant. 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 ($10,160).