Football

Argentina cry foul over Messi ban

Coach Bauza blames last-minute decision by Fifa for shock loss to Bolivia

Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza criticised Fifa for handing Lionel Messi a four-game suspension hours before his side slumped to a 2-0 defeat in Bolivia that jeopardised their hopes of qualifying for next year's World Cup.

Juan Carlos Arce and Marcelo Martins were on target as Bolivia claimed a comfortable victory at Estadio Hernando Siles yesterday morning (Singapore time).

However, much of the focus was on Barcelona playmaker Messi, who was banned for four international matches and fined 10,000 Swiss francs (S$14,030) for abusing an assistant referee during last Thursday's win over Chile.

Argentina plan to appeal the ruling but, with the ban handed down hours before kick-off, Bauza was left bemused by the timing of Fifa's announcement.

He said in post-match quotes reported on espn.com: "When the rumour began to settle, the concern began to take on more volume.

"It seemed strange that in one day everything could be done, that we did not have time to make an appeal.

"We did not have time to work with someone else. Now the corresponding procedure for the appeal is being processed."

Messi's club, Barcelona, also described the punishment as "unjust and totally disproportionate".

The Catalan outfit said: "FC Barcelona want to reiterate their support for Leo Messi, an exemplary sportsman for his behaviour on and off the pitch."

Juan Arce and Marcelo Martins scored either side of half-time to give the hosts a deserved victory over an Argentina side who defended poorly throughout an exciting end-to-end encounter.

SLIPPED TO FIFTH

With Colombia and Chile both winning, Argentina slipped to fifth in the South American qualification race - with only the top-four teams earning an automatic ticket to Russia next summer.

Despite having had his tactics disrupted in the build-up, Bauza admitted his side had under-performed in the first half.

"We try to get prominence to Bolivia, the second half the team improved slightly," he added.

"Bolivia won well. We must think in what's coming. We are alive and want to qualify for the World Cup.

"We know that this is going to be a struggle and we will keep fighting."

To rub salt in the wound, Argentina's fierce rivals Brazil qualified for the the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia after a dominant 3-0 win over Paraguay yesterday morning.

Brazil coach Tite was conducting his post-match press conference when news filtered through that Uruguay had lost 2-1 to Peru, ensuring Brazil became the first side to book their place for Russia 2018.

Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho curled in a low opener and Neymar capped an eventful evening with a goal in the second half before Marcelo added a late third in Sao Paolo.

Barcelona forward Neymar, captaining the side, missed a penalty and saw an effort chalked off for offside on a day when he was routinely given rough treatment from the Paraguay defenders..

He said, after scoring his 52nd international goal: "I am very happy for this moment, not only mine, but also my teammates'.

"We are achieving our goals, which is to win and reach the World Cup as well." 
- WIRE SERVICES

OTHER RESULTS

  • Ecuador 0 Colombia 2
  • Brazil 3 Paraguay 0
  • Chile 3 Venezuela 1
  • Peru 2 Uruguay 1
World CupARGENTINALionel messi