Argentina captain punished for verbally abusing an official
Argentina have suffered a major blow in their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
Captain and talisman Lionel Messi has been handed a four match for verbally abusing an assistant referee during Argentina's 1-0 win over Chile in a qualifier last week.
Messi scored the winning goal via the penalty spot but according to FIFA's Disciplinary Committe, the player was guilty of having "directed insulting words" towards an official while contesting a decision.
The announcement of the ban comes just hours before Argentina are due to face Bolivia in their next World Cup qualifying match in La Paz.
The move was confirmed by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee in a statement:
"The FIFA Disciplinary Committee – in application of articles 77 a) and 108 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code (FDC) – has reached a decision in relation to the case of Lionel Messi following an incident that occurred during the match between Argentina and Chile on 23 March 2017 as part of the qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™:
"Lionel Messi has been found guilty of violating art. 57 of the FDC for having directed insulting words at an assistant referee.
"As a result, Messi will be suspended for four official matches and sanctioned with a fine of CHF 10,000. The first match for which the sanction will apply is the next fixture in the preliminary competition of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ between Bolivia and Argentina, which will be played today, 28 March. The remainder of the sanction will be served over Argentina’s subsequent FIFA World Cup qualifying matches.
"This decision is in line with the FIFA Disciplinary Committee’s previous rulings in similar cases.
"Both the player and the Argentinian Football Association have been informed of the decision today."
Ahead of the Bolivia match, Argentina are third in the CONMEBOL qualifiers, just two points above Ecuador who occupy the playoff spot.
That match will be Argentina's 14th of the campaign and only four more will remain which means Messi can only feature in the final fixture.
He is Argentina's top scorer in qualifying with four of their total of 15 goals.