Lionel Messi has been banned from Argentina’s World Cup qualifier away at Bolivia, with Fifa announcing the news less than six hours before kick-off.
The Albiceleste face a crunch game in La Paz, which has already been made difficult enough by the altitude, but must now contend also with the absence of their best player against Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela.
Messi has been retrospectively punished for insults aimed at – and comments about the mother of – Brazilian assistant referee Dewson Silva during Argentina’s 1-0 win over Chile last week.
The Barcelona forward was caught on video invoking “the c*** of [Silva’s] mother” as he raged against an officiating decision. Match referee Sandro Ricci did not include the incident in his report but Fifa confirmed they were investigating regardless after being made aware of the footage.
Messi would later refuse to shake the official’s hand and Ricci denied hearing anything.
“I didn’t hear any offensive language from Lionel Messi or anyone else towards myself,” he said.
“If I heard any offensive words, I would have acted according to the rules of the game.”
Argentina’s victory at home to the Chileans kept them in the mix for automatic qualification, sitting in third place in Conmebol’s qualification process, but with only four teams heading directly to Russia 2018 and another destined for the playoffs, just three points separate sixth-place Chile and Uruguay in second.
Messi will now not feature in Argentina’s qualification efforts until their final fixture against Ecuador.
Bolivia has been a historically difficult place to go for visiting teams, with the Estadio Hernando Siles the highest football ground in the world. It even falls outside the rules set by Fifa, but was handed special exemption to host international fixtures.
Diego Maradona’s Argentina were famously thrashed 6-1 in La Paz as they wobbled en route to World Cup 2010 while Messi and Angel Di Maria both needed oxygen masks during qualification for the 2014 tournament.