Argentina’s road to the World Cup in 2018 just got significantly more complicated. FIFA ruled on Tuesday that star and captain Lionel Messi will be suspended for four games following his behavior during Argentina’s World Cup Qualifier match against Chile on Thursday, March 23.
Late in the first half of Argentina’s 1-0 win over Chile, Messi was seeing gesturing and yelling at an assistant referee, which FIFA determined violated article 57 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code (FCD), which states that “anyone who insults someone in any way, especially by using offensive gestures or language” may be sanctioned according to FIFA’s discretion.
Despite the fact that the head referee for the match, Sandro Ricci, did not report the incident in his post-match report filed with FIFA, the ban was handed down after the Chilean soccer federation sent along video of the incident. Ricci said in post-match comments that he “did not hear any offensive language from Messi or anyone else towards myself, besides the normal players’ complains (specially raising their hands) during the match. If I had heard any offensive word, I would have acted in according the rules of the game”.
This follows a recent incident which saw Chilean player Gary Medel get a ban for insulting a referee, so to the Chilean federation, Messi’s ban must surely be seen as fair play. Of course, Chilean Gonzalo Jara only got a three-game ban after his finger-poke butt stuff incident with Edinson Cavani in 2015, so maybe Messi’s ban could be seen as harsh in comparison.
Argentina now faces an uphill battle to qualify for Russia, if the ban is upheld. The timing of the decision comes less than 6 hours from kickoff between the Albiceleste and Bolivia, and if Messi choses not to appeal, he will also miss games against Uruguay, Peru, and Venezuela. As it stands, Argentina is currently in 3rd place in qualifying, just two points clear of the last qualification spot.