Argentina captain Lionel Messi has protested his innocence right after becoming handed a four-match ban for abusing an official, insisting his insults were aimed “to the air”.
The Barcelona star scored the only purpose of the game in a Planet Cup qualifying win against Chile, but his second-half clash with an assistant led to a ban in the hours just before a second important clash with Bolivia.
Argentina lost 2-0 in La Paz with no their star player and Messi is adamant that the ban is unfair as he didn’t direct his frustrations towards the officials.
“My sayings were by no means addressed towards the assistant, however they have been said for the air,” he said within a statement reported by La Nacion.
Argentina have already announced an intention to appeal the ban, which would see Messi also absent for qualifying matches against Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru.
“We are surprised by the choice which has been taken,” national team secretary Jorge Miadosqui said on Tuesday. “We are very angry due to the way it was handled hours prior to playing.
“We are going to appeal the FIFA sanction. There are earlier [examples] to think the punishment may be decreased. Messi is sad, as all of us are. We do not agree together with the way in which this was handled.”
Argentina are in fifth place within the CONMEBOL section with six games of the campaign remaining. The best 4 teams progress automatically to Russia, although the side in fifth will enter the play-offs.