This is excellent news for under-performing Argentina, who are still figuring out a way to get to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. FIFA has finally overturned Lionel Messi’s four-game ban for swearing at an assistant referee during a WC qualifying match against Chile on March 23.
The world’s supreme football body said that there wasn’t enough evidence to hand him stiff punishment. The 29-year-old Barcelona striker, who is central to Argentina’s faltering bid to get to Russia 2018, now has the last chance to come out of Diego Maradona’s shadow and perform on a bigger stage.
Football’s governing body said its appeal committee sided with a challenge filed on Messi’s behalf by the Argentine Football Association (AFA) and lifted “the sanctions imposed on him as a result”.
“Despite the fact that the FIFA Appeal Committee considered Lionel Messi’s behaviour as reproachable” it concluded “the evidence available was not sufficient” to justify a four-game international ban.
The ruling also means Messi will be spared the 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,000, 9,200 euros) fine.
Argentine football officials conceded that Messi’s foul-mouthed tirade was wrong but argued that FIFA’s sanction was disproportionate and politically motivated. Argentina desperately need their star because they risk failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1970.
They have won only one of eight World Cup 2018 qualifiers played without Messi, compared to five out of six won with him on the pitch.
They are fifth in World Cup qualifying in South America, with only the top four earning automatic places in Russia.
The fifth place finisher can still qualify by winning a playoff against the winners of the Oceania region. The AFA fired coach Edgardo Bauza following a damaging March defeat to Bolivia — Messi was absent because of the ban. He can now however return when qualifying resumes in August with a clash against Uruguay, followed by matches against Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador.
Inputs From AFP