Messi suspended for 4 games after referee incident

Lionel Messi celebrating the victory over Chile on Thursday. (David Fernández - EFE)

Lionel Messi will not play today in the World Cup qualifier against Bolivia, since FIFA decided to suspend the Argentine captain for 4 international matches. Besides today’s match, Messi will also miss the games against Uruguay in Montevideo on August 31, and two home games against Venezuela on September 5, and Peru on October 5.

This suspension came after images brought by the press where Leo apparently was insulting the referee’s decisions in the game against Chile last week. Therefore, FIFA officials requested for an investigation to determine whether or not Messi’s words were enough to have him suspended. The ironic part of the story is that the four officials who were in charge on Thursday’s match, said that they didn’t hear “any offensive language from Messi”, and in fact didn’t even mention this incident in the match report that has to be written after every game. However, after watching the images on television replays, the Disiplinary Comision of FIFA decided it was their duty to sanction unsportsmanlike actions that the referees didn’t see.

This sets an unseen precedent in international football, since it has never been the case where FIFA suspends a player based on images from the press. Usually in these cases, if the action is not in the official referee report after the match, then it can’t be sanctioned, especially in the case where what is being judged is what was said during the match. For this reason Armando Perez the president of the Argentine Association of Football (AFA), said that he thought “the suspension was excessive, and it sets a dangerous precedent in which the press can manipulate some images in order to convey a story”. He also said that he has intentions of appealing the decision to the FIFA court.

If the suspension isn’t revoked then Argentina will face a difficult set of games in order to qualify for the 2018 Russia World Cup. The team was already not playing very well, and Messi was one of the few who brought dashes of hope to the public. Now without their clear leader, this squad faces their greatest challenge, and many wonder whether they’ll live up to the task.

Argentina currently stands third in the table with 22 points, ahead are Uruguay with 23, and Brazil with 30. However, their point differential with the teams behind them is very little, Colombia is fourth with 21 points, Ecuador fifth with 20, Chile sixth with 20 and Paraguay seventh with 18. Therefore with Brazil ahead of the rest, we have 6 teams competing for 3 spots that assure the World Cup presence, and one that gives an option via playoff.