Argentina star Messi slapped with four-game ban hours before Bolivia clash

Lionel Messi will miss Argentina's World Cup qualifier against Bolivia after being slapped with a four-game ban for a foul-mouthed rant at a match official.

The decision was communicated to the Argentine Football Association (AFA) just hours before their match in La Paz on Tuesday evening.

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It followed an incident towards the end of the Albiceleste's 1-0 victory over Chile last week, when the Barcelona star scored the only goal from the penalty spot.

Lionel Messi Alexis Sanchez Argentina Chile Eliminatorias Sudamericanas 2018

The 29-year-old was penalised for a foul and proceeded to wave his arms and shout insults at the referee's assistant Marcelo van Gasse, with whom he refused to shake hands at the final whistle.

It was not initially recorded in referee Sandro Ricci's report but was followed up by FIFA after video footage of Messi's insult emerged. Both the officials and the AFA were subsequently asked for their observations.

Messi has been fined 10,000 Swiss francs (£8,100) and will also miss World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru before returning for the final match against Ecuador.

"This decision reflects the consistent case law that the FIFA Disciplinary Committee has applied in previous and similar cases," a FIFA statement reads.

Four South American teams are guaranteed a place at the finals and a fifth can also progress by winning an intercontinental play-off tie against a team from Oceania.

Argentina currently sit third in the regional table but are only two points ahead of Chile, who are the first team out of the qualifying spots in sixth.

Messi is one of five players suspended for the visit to Bolivia after Nicolas Otamendi, Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia and Gonzalo Higuain picked up yellow cards against Chile.

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To compound coach Edgardo Bauza's selection headache, Gabriel Mercado and Emmanuel Mas both suffered injuries in that match.

More encouraging for Argentina, however, is the fact that Bolivia have lost 10 of their 13 qualifiers so far despite their well-documented altitude advantage at Estadio Hernando Siles, which is one of the highest stadiums in the world at 3,637 metres above sea level.

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