ZURICH: Argentina’s shaky prospect of qualifying for next year’s World Cup finals in Russia have been dealt two serious blows with a four-game ban on Lionel Messi being followed by a 2-0 defeat in Bolivia writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

The Barcelona superstar was suspended for insulting an assistant referee and, having missed the match against Bolivia, will also be absent against Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela.

Coach Edgardo Bauza’s team have won six, drawn four and lost four of their qualifying ties and risk not being among the top four who qualify automatically for the finals. The fifth-place team must enter the intercontinental playoffs.

Messi has been suspended for unleashing a critical verbal volley at assistant Dewson Silva during Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile.

He had been the subject of some heavy tackles throughout the game and, at the final whistle, continued protesting and complaining to the match officials.

Argentina have won five out of the six qualifiers in which Messi has played but won one of the seven he has missed.

He missed draws against Paraguay, Brazil, Venezuela and Peru as well as defeats by Ecuador and Paraguay.

In Bolivia, Juan Carlos Arce headed the hosts in front before Marcelo Moreno grabbed the second after the break.