Barcelona ace forward Lionel Messi banned

Messi was hit with a four-match worldwide ban this week after directing a tirade of abuse at an assistant following Argentina's 1-0 win over Chile last Thursday, in an incident that appeared out of character for the five-time world player of the year.

Lionel Messi heads to board a flight bound for La Paz, at the Viru Viru Airport in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, on Tuesday.

Messi was punished for abusing an official after using "insulting words" towards an assistant referee during Thursday's 1-0 win over Chile.

"Finally, FC Barcelona wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary athlete, for his behaviour on and off the pitch".

Argentina's defeat to Bolivia left them with a battle to qualify for the World Cup in Russian Federation.

The 29-year-old Messi will miss Argentina's games away to Uruguay and home to Venezuela and Peru.

Colombia are now second behind Brazil who have now qualified, after they beat Ecuador 2-0 with goals from James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado.

The top four teams in South American qualifying advance to next summer's tournament, while the team that finishes fifth goes into a playoff.

The win at Sao Paulo's Arena Corinthians means Brazil are all but guaranteed to extend their record of never failing to qualify for the World Cup by securing their place in Russian Federation.

On Wednesday, AS passed along comments Messi made to Argentinian outlet La Nacion about the situation and he echoed the country's Football Association's explanation of the incident to FIFA.

The 2014 World Cup finalists have struggled without their star player in qualifying for 2018, earning only seven out of a possible 21 points when he did not play. However, the sacking of coach Dunga and the appointment of former Corinthians coach Tite was the catalyst for a Brazilian resurgence.That revival saw Brazil take maximum points from their next eight qualifiers, leaving them nine points clear on Tuesday.

We are very angry because of the way it was handled hours before playing.

Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas praised Barcelona star Lionel Messi for remaining humble despite his success.

  • Leroy Wright