Lionel Messi deserved a two-match ban for Argentina - Diego Maradona
Argentina forward Lionel Messi deserved to be banned for two matches for insulting a match official in a World Cup qualifying game against Chile, Diego Maradona has said.
Argentina legend Maradona told Radio La Red he was surprised that the FIFA appeals committee reduced the four-match ban against the Barcelona star after Messi had served the one-game sanction against Bolivia.
"It makes absolutely no sense, but Leo deserved [to be sanctioned] for one more match and I say that with my heart in my hand," Maradona said.
He said it was his understanding that FIFA sanctions players for two matches for insulting a linesman.
"They reduced the ban for the same reason they always do with star players and veteran players," Maradona said.
"Messi is not the type of player to insult anyone. I managed him for one year and he is more like a teddy bear than a football player."
Messi will now be available for Argentina's crucial World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru.
Maradona insisted that he had no influence in the FIFA appeals committee's decision.
"I tried to help Messi but I had nothing to do with it," he said. "The gentlemen who were there said four [matches] and then all of a sudden it was three. I want to be clear about Messi that I did speak to people but I never asked anything of [FIFA president Gianni] Infantino. Infantino has no role in the court [of appeals]."
Messi's availability could prove key to Argentina's chances of qualifying for next summer's World Cup, with the Albiceleste's presence in Russia far from certain as things stand.
They are currently fifth in the standings with just four games to go -- which would only be enough to earn them a playoff place -- and trail Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and Chile.
Argentina lost to Bolivia, 2-0, this past March in the match that Messi was forced to sit out.
Their World Cup qualifier against Luis Suarez's Uruguay is set for Aug. 31. The match against Venezuela is on Sept. 5 and they take on Peru on Oct. 5.
Maradona said he was pleased with the decision.
"You have to congratulate all those who made it possible to get Messi's ban reduced," he said. "I am happy with the decision, both for Messi and because I am Argentine. We can return to dreaming about the World Cup again."
Maradona, 56, was recently appointed coach of Al-Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates second division. He had been out of management since being sacked by Dubai's Al-Wasl in 2012.
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