FIFA has freed Lionel Messi to continue leading Argentina’s soccer team toward the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
The soccer superstar successfully appealed his four-game suspension and is available to represent his country again, FIFA announced Friday on its website.
FIFA had fined and banned Messi for verbally abusing a referee’s assistant on March 23 during Argentina’s 1-0 win over Chile, but its appeals committee concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to punish him for an infraction the referee originally failed to report.
Messi already missed one game because of the suspension, and Argentina suffered without its captain and all-time leading scorer.
Messi now is likely to play for his country Aug. 31 against Uruguay, Sept. 4 against Venezuela and Oct. 5 against Peru.
Messi, Argentina and his club, FC Barcelona, reacted angrily to his original suspension because the referee never included the verbal abuse in his game report, and FIFA effectively punished Messi based on second-hand accounts.
FIFA agreed this was an injustice against Messi but still chided him for “reproachable” behavior.
“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,” FIFA said in its statement.
Argentina is in fifth place in the 10-team CONMEBOL (South American region) World Cup qualifying tournament with four games remaining.
The top four CONMEBOL finishers will automatically qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The fifth-place finisher must defeat a team from Oceania, most likely New Zealanad, in a two-game playoff in order to compete in the World Cup.
Argentina is much more likely to hit one of these targets with Messi than without him.
Thumbnail photo via Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports Images