ZÚRICH – FIFA has overturned Barcelona star Lionel Messi”s four-game ban from international matches imposed for swearing at an assistant referee, saying there was not enough evidence to support the stiff punishment.
The U-turn is a major boost to Argentina’s hopes of reaching next year’s World Cup in Russia, with the South Americans struggling in regional qualifying.
The global football body said its appeal committee sided with a challenge filed on Messi’s behalf by the Argentine Football Association and lifted ‘the sanctions imposed on him as a result’.
Despite the fact that “the FIFA Appeal Committee considered Lionel Messi’s behavior as reproachable, it concluded that “the evidence available was not sufficient” to justify a four-game ban.
In March, the striker was found guilty of ‘having directed insulting words at an assistant referee’ in a World Cup qualifier against Chile which Argentina won 1-0 thanks to a penalty from the Barcelona hitman.
Argentine football chief Armando Perez conceded that Messi ‘made a mistake’, but argued that FIFA’s sanction was disproportionate.
The ban that started on March 28 and the fine for 10,112 U.S. dollars were withdrawn.