Argentina and Barcelona star Lionel Messi has been hit with a four-game ban by football’s governing body FIFA, and a $10,000 fine, after abusing a match official while on international duty.
The 29-year-old became animated at the end of Argentina’s 1-0 victory over Chile in last Friday’s World Cup qualifier — a game settled by Messi’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.
The ban means Messi will miss Argentina’s crucial clash with Bolivia on Tuesday, as well as upcoming games against Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela.
It counts as 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 go through, while the team that finishes fifth goes into a playoff. Argentina sit third, but only three points separates sixth-place Chile and Uruguay in second.
Messi won’t return 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.”