Barcelona star Lionel Messi was suspended for four Argentina matches by Fifa on Tuesday for swearing at an assistant referee, a decision the Argentine federation said had left him feeling “sad”.
Messi was found guilty of “having directed insulting words at an assistant referee” in the World Cup qualifier against Chile last Thursday which Argentina won 1-0 thanks to a penalty from the Barcelona hitman.
Messi will miss Argentina’s next South American qualifying game against Bolivia, scheduled for later on Tuesday, with the remainder of the suspension served over his country’s subsequent World Cup qualifiers.
He was also fined 10,000 Swiss francs (Dh37,283), with Fifa saying: “This decision is in line with the Fifa Disciplinary Committee’s previous rulings in similar cases.”
Argentina team secretary Jorge Miadosqui, speaking from the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, immediately confirmed that the federation would appeal the ban.
“The federation will appeal as it should,” he said, noting that Messi had not been warned or sanctioned by the referee of the Chile match at the time of the outburst, and nothing had been mentioned in the referee’s match report.
“We feel powerless, surprised,” Miadosqui added, noting that the ban came just hours ahead of the match with Bolivia.
“I’m angry, Messi is sad, like us. He could have played, he travelled to play, he should have played.”
Argentina’s victory over Chile left them in third place overall in the 10-team South American qualifying competition for the World Cup with 22 points from 13 games.
The top four finishers qualify automatically for next year’s finals in Russia.
Argentina have won five of their six World Cup 2018 qualifiers with Messi but only one of seven without the superstar.
They are only two points ahead of Ecuador and Chile in fifth and sixth.
Southgate irked by Palace chief’s Zaha remark
England manager Gareth Southgate has taken issue with Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish’s views on the international tug-of-war involving Ivory Coast winger Wilfried Zaha.
Zaha was capped twice by England, in 2012 and 2013, but switched allegiances to Ivory Coast, the country of his birth, late last year and has since made six appearances for them.
He scored a fine solo goal in Ivory Coast’s 2-0 friendly win over Russia last week, prompting Parish to tweet: “Never wavered in my belief of @wilfriedzaha, why is this goal not for @England?”
“I’m not sure it’s helpful as a comment. I wouldn’t comment on his decisions,” Southgate told reporters after England’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Lithuania at Wembley on Sunday.
“I know the chairman’s got quite a vociferous view on it. Steve’s an intelligent guy who’s done a great job for that football club.”
■ Richard Jolly: Southgate's tinkering aimed past cup qualification
■ Diego Forlan: England should learn from Uruguay if they want success
Southgate, a former Palace captain, previously coached Zaha during his time as England Under 21 manager.
The Palace winger, 24, was the first player he watched after being confirmed as England’s permanent manager last November, but by then it was too late.
“I didn’t really appreciate there was this disappearing egg timer on him going to the Ivory Coast,” Southgate admitted.
“I didn’t want to just pick him because there was a chance that that might happen. The first opportunity I had as permanent manager, I did go and speak to him.”
Despite his disappointment at missing out on Zaha, Southgate says he is only interested in players who have a burning desire to play for England.
“Any time you leave a player out of squads, you run the risk of them going across to another country,” he said.
“But in the end I have to focus on the players that are desperate to play for England.
“If you don’t feel that internal, 100 percent passion for playing for England, I’m not sure it’s for me to sell that to you. It should be your desire to do it.
“The inherent desire to play for your country is the most important thing if we’re going to be successful.
“Part of your identity as a national team has got to be pride in the shirt. So for me the commitment has to come from the player.”
* Agence France-Presse
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