FIFA hands Lionel Messi four-match ban for insults in WCQ vs. Chile

FIFA dealt a four-match ban to Lionel Messi on Tuesday after ruling that the Argentina forward verbally abused a match official in a World Cup qualifying game against Chile last week.

Messi was dealt the suspension and a fine of 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,160) by FIFA's disciplinary panel. He will miss four of Argentina's remaining five World Cup qualifiers, including the match against Bolivia on Tuesday night. He can return for Argentina's final qualifier, away to Ecuador on Oct. 10.

FIFA said Messi was guilty of "having directed insulting words at an assistant referee" and added in a statement: "This decision is in line with the FIFA Disciplinary Committee's previous rulings in similar cases."

The Argentina federation confirmed it will appeal the ban, with team secretary Jorge Miadosqui saying: "The decision doesn't correspond with the reality based on what was put in the referee's report."

Football's world governing body intervened because the incident was not initially reported by Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci after Argentina beat Chile 1-0 in Buenos Aires on Thursday. Messi scored the only goal from a first-half penalty.

Television pictures clearly showed Messi reacting angrily late in the game when assistant referee Emerson Carvalho flagged him for fouling an opponent. He waved his arms and shouted profane insults at the assistant. After the game, Messi refused to shake hands with Carvalho.

Argentina newspaper Ole published documents from the FIFA inquiry, which quote head referee Ricci as saying he wasn't aware that Messi had insulted any official.

"I did not hear any offensive language from Messi or anyone else towards myself, besides the normal players' complains (specially raising their hands) [sic] during the match. If I had heard any offensive word, I would have acted in according the rules of the game."

Chile football federation (ANFP) secretary Sebastian Moreno denied that his federation petitioned FIFA for a sanction against Messi.

"We did not send any document requesting that the player be punished," Moreno told ESPN radio 107.9 in Argentina. "I can tell you that with absolute certainty. I gave an interview on Sunday in which I said that as a federation we were not going to file any type of request regarding [what happened with] Messi. We trusted that the disciplinary procedure of FIFA would work against the player.

"We thought that the [disciplinary] procedure worked," he said. "From the first analysis this should have been taken care of by the referee in the match report."

Atletico Madrid forward Angel Correa will start in place of Messi on Tuesday night, with Argentina set to play Bolivia in La Paz's altitude without Gonzalo Higuain, Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia and Nicolas Otamendi, all of whom are suspended after collecting yellow cards. Full-backs Gabriel Mercado and Emmanuel Mas are both injured and will sit out.

On Monday, Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza said he will also leave Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero on the bench, and Messi's absence means the Albiceleste will make a total of eight squad changes from the team that beat Chile. Messi made the trip to La Paz with the team on Tuesday.

Argentina are third in CONMEBOL qualifying, with the top four automatically qualifying to play in Russia, while the fifth-placed team advances to a playoff. Argentina have struggled throughout most of their World Cup qualifying campaign, but had won their last two matches, with Messi scoring in both, to improve their position. Bolivia are in ninth.

Messi will also miss Argentina's game at Uruguay on Aug. 31, and home games against Venezuela on Sept. 5 and Peru on Oct. 5.

Armando Perez, who is president of the ad-hoc committee running the Argentina federation while they are under investigation by FIFA, told ESPN Argentina on Tuesday that he will meet with other federation leaders to draft the appeal.

Miadosqui told TYC: "Messi is sad like we all are. This could have been handled differently and he would have been able to play today."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.