Lionel Messi has had his four-match international ban for verbally abusing a match official lifted by Fifa after the Argentinian Football Association successfully appealed against the suspension, meaning he is eligible to play in all of their remaining 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Messi served one of the four-game ban when he sat out Argentina’s 2-0 defeat by Bolivia on 28 March, five days after he was found to have verbally abused a linesman during the 1-0 victory against Chile.
Fifa were able to take retrospective action against the Barcelona forward as he was not reported for the alleged abuse by the match referee, with Fifa rules stating that bans should be “at least four matches for unsporting conduct toward a match official”.
The Argentinian FA appealed the ban in the hope of having Messi available for their next World Cup qualifier, against Uruguay on 31 August, as well as the following matches against Venezuela and Peru, with the 29-year-old due to return for their final qualifier against Ecuador.
However, Fifa announced on Friday afternoon that the ban had been lifted as the “evidence available was not sufficient to establish” an infringement that required retrospective action to be taken.
A Fifa statement read: “The Fifa Appeal Committee has upheld the appeal lodged by the Argentinian 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.
Fifa did use the statement to reaffirm their stance over the behaviour shown towards referees, though the removal of the ban completely – beyond the one match that Messi has already missed – triggers doubt over that approach.
“The Appeal Committee nevertheless underlines the importance of always showing respect to the match officials, stressing that such a principle is essential in football and any unsporting conduct that may be contrary to the principles of fair play cannot be accepted.”