FIFA on Friday overturned Barcelona star Lionel Messi’s four-game ban from international matches imposed for swearing at an assistant referee, saying there was not enough evidence to support the stiff punishment.
The U-turn is a major boost to Argentina’s hopes of reaching next year’s World Cup in Russia, with the South Americans struggling in regional qualifying.
FIFA said its appeal committee sided with a challenge filed on Messi’s behalf by the Argentine Football Association and lifted “the sanctions imposed on him as a result”.
“Despite the fact that the FIFA Appeal Committee considered Lionel Messi’s behaviour as reproachable” it concluded “the evidence available was not sufficient” to justify a four-game ban.
In March the striker was found guilty of “having directed insulting words at an assistant referee” in a World Cup qualifier against Chile which Argentina won 1-0 thanks to a penalty from the Barcelona hitman.
Argentine football chief Armando Perez conceded that Messi “made a mistake”, but argued that FIFA’s sanction was disproportionate.