Argentina forward Lionel Messi has been banned from their next four competitive internationals, starting with Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier in Bolivia, for swearing at a match official, FIFA said on Tuesday.
The decision was announced less than six hours before kick-off of the match in La Paz and means that the five-times world player of the year will play in only one of Argentina’s remaining five World Cup qualifiers.
“Footballer Lionel Messi has been found guilty of violating art. 57 of the FDC for having directed insulting words at an assistant referee,” read a statement on FIFA’s website.
“As a result, Lionel Messi will be suspended for four official matches and sanctioned with a fine of CHF 10,000 (£8,110).
“The first match for which the sanction will apply is the next fixture in the preliminary competition of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia between Bolivia and Argentina, which will be played today, 28 March.
“The remainder of the sanction will be served over Argentina’s subsequent FIFA World Cup qualifying matches.”
As well as the Bolivia game, Messi will miss fixtures against Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru, with the Barcelona superstar set to return for their final World Cup qualifier against Ecuador in October.
Argentina are third in the 10-team South American group with 22 points from 13 games but have only a two-point cushion over sixth-placed Chile, with Colombia (21) and Ecuador (20) sandwiched in between.
The top four qualify directly for the tournament in Russia and the fifth side play off against a team from a different confederation for another place.
“This decision is in line with the FIFA Disciplinary Committee’s previous rulings in similar cases,” FIFA said.