ZURICH: Lionel Messi is free to represent Argentina in their World Cup qualifiers after his four-match international ban was overturned on appeal.
The 29-year-old Barcelona forward was suspended for directing “insulting words” at an assistant referee during a 1-0 win over Chile in March. He missed one match – Argentina’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying loss to Bolivia..
A FIFA appeal committee said while his behaviour was “reproachable”, the evidence was not sufficient.
He will now be available for matches against Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru as Argentina fight to secure a place at next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia.
A fine of 10,000 Swiss francs (£7,800) was also lifted.
During the Chile game, Messi was caught on camera venting his anger at an assistant who signalled he had committed a foul.
He was not shown a card at the time.
The appeal committee said, in a statement:
The FIFA Appeal Committee has upheld the appeal lodged by the Argentinian Football Association, on behalf of the player Lionel Messi, against the decision taken by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee, lifting the sanctions imposed on him as a result.
Following a hearing which took place in Zurich on 4 May 2017, the Appeal Committee has set aside the decision taken by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee on 28 March 2017, which, in application of art. 77 a) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code (FDC), had found Lionel Messi guilty of infringing art. 57 of the FDC for having directed insulting words at an assistant referee.
Despite the fact that the FIFA Appeal Committee considered Lionel Messi’s behaviour as reproachable, the former concluded that the evidence available was not sufficient to establish to the appropriate standard, i.e. to the comfortable satisfaction of the members of the Appeal Committee, that art. 77 a) of the FDC, according to which the Disciplinary Committee is responsible for sanctioning serious infringements which have escaped the match officials’ attention, could be applied.
The Appeal Committee nevertheless underlines the importance of always showing respect to the match officials, stressing that such a principle is essential in football and any unsporting conduct that may be contrary to the principles of fair play cannot be accepted.
In view of the above decision, the match suspension imposed on Lionel Messi, which entered into force on 28 March 2017, and the fine of CHF 10,000 have been lifted.