Lionel Messi has been banned from Argentina’s next four World Cup qualifiers, starting with Tuesday’s game in Bolivia. Messi was banned for “having directed insulting words at an assistant referee” during a home qualifier against Chile on Thursday, FIFA said hours before kickoff in La Paz. “This decision is in line with the FIFA Disciplinary Committee’s previous rulings in similar cases,” the world soccer body said. Messi and the Argentine soccer federation can appeal against the ban to FIFA. Messi was also fined 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,160). FIFA intervened when the incident was not initially reported by the Brazilian referee after Argentina’s 1-0 win at Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires.
It was judged a red-card offense for Messi, who scored the only goal from a first-half penalty. Television pictures showed Messi reacting angrily late in the game when the assistant flagged him for a foul. He waved his arms and shouted profane insults at the Brazilian official. After the game, Messi refused to shake hands with the assistant who had annoyed him. Messi will also miss Argentina’s game at Uruguay on Aug. 31, and home games against Venezuela on Sept. 5 and Peru on Oct. 5. Argentina is third in the South American standings with five games left. Four teams qualify directly to play in Russia. The 2014 World Cup finalists have struggled without their star player in qualifying for 2018, earning only seven out of a possible 21 points when he did not play.