FIFA lifts Lionel Messi's Argentina ban after appeal
Barcelona forward Lionel Messi will be available for Argentina's crucial World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru after FIFA's Appeal Committee lifted his four-game suspension from international matches.
The 29-year-old was handed the ban retrospectively by world football's governing body in March -- along with a fine of 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,160) -- after television footage showed him verbally abusing a match official during a qualifier against Chile.
As a result, he subsequently missed his country's 2-0 defeat to Bolivia in La Paz and was set to be suspended for three more qualifying games later this year.
Messi and Argentina appealed the ban, though, and on Thursday his lawyer, Juan de Dios Crespo, and representatives from the Argentine Football Association (AFA) appeared at a hearing in Zurich.
"The FIFA Appeal Committee has upheld the appeal lodged by the Argentine Football Association, on behalf of the player Lionel Messi, against the decision taken by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee, lifting the sanctions imposed on him as a result," a statement confirmed Friday.
"Despite the fact that the FIFA Appeal Committee considered Lionel Messi's behaviour as reproachable, the former concluded that the evidence available was not sufficient to establish to the appropriate standard, i.e. to the comfortable satisfaction of the members of the Appeal Committee, that art. 77 a) of the FDC, according to which the Disciplinary Committee is responsible for sanctioning serious infringements which have escaped the match officials' attention, could be applied.
"In view of the above decision, the match suspension imposed on Lionel Messi, which entered into force on 28 March 2017, and the fine of 10,000 Swiss francs have been lifted."
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's next World Cup qualifier is against Luis Suarez's Uruguay on Aug. 31. They then play Venezuela on Sept. 5 and Peru on Oct. 5, all games for which Messi was due to be suspended.
Messi had been due to appear in Zurich himself on Thursday, but in the end did not attend the hearing, citing 'personal reasons,' although it is possible he appeared via video link to declare.
Speaking after the hearing, Messi's lawyer De Dios Crespo couldn't confirm if that was the case, but did reveal his optimism at getting the ban overturned: "I think we did a very good job. We are optimistic based upon a job well done.
"I can't discuss the case right now. In a few days I will be able to give you all the details. But now I cannot tell you whether or not there was videoconferencing [with Messi from Barcelona]."
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.