In Brief

Messi banned as Argentina stumble on road to World Cup

Barcelona star banned for four games as the Albiceleste slip out of the automatic qualification places for Russia 2018

Lionel Messi has paid for his potty mouth with a four-match ban. The Barcelona striker was informed of the suspension just hours before Argentina's World Cup qualifier against Bolivia on Tuesday evening, a punishment that included a £8,100 fine.

That's small change for the South American superstar but the ban will hurt both him and his country, and Argentina's 2-0 defeat against Bolivia - coupled with Chile's 3-1 victory over Venezuela in their qualifying match - drops them to fifth in the Conmebol qualifying pool. The nations that finish in the top four qualify for next year's World Cup in Russia while the team in fifth plays off against their Oceania counterpart.

The BBC says that Messi was hit with the ban for directing "insulting words" at an assistant referee in Thursday's 1-0 victory over Chile. The 29-year-old Argentina captain scored the tie's only goal but that evidently didn't do much for his temper, and he was seen losing his rag when he was flagged by the assistant Marcelo van Gasse.

According to Argentine newspaper, Ole, match referee Sandro Ricci said he was unaware that Messi had insulted any official during the match and didn't mention the incident in his original report.

But according to Goal.com Messi went mad in the second half when Van Gasse ruled that he'd committed a foul, directing a foul-mouthed tirade at the official, insulting his mother. He still was still smouldering at the end of the match and refused to shake Van Gasse's hand.

After studying television footage of the confrontation, Fifa intervened on Monday and insisted that a Conmebol disciplinary panel investigate the incident. "If I had heard any offensive word, I would have acted in according the rules of the game," said Ricci, when asked why he'd overlooked the contretemps.

He did award a controversial penalty to Argentina, however, after adjudging Angel di Maria to have been pushed in the area, and Messi duly scored the spot kick.

Messi can appeal against the ban to Fifa but as it stands he will sit out the World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru in the stands, presumably cursing his misfortune.

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