Lionel Messi says his insults were never addressed to the assistant referee

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has branded club teammate Lionel Messi's four game global ban an "outrage".

Argentina had been rocked just hours before kick-off after confirmation Messi had been hit with a four-match ban following a ruling from disciplinary chiefs at world governing body Federation Internationale de Football Association in Zurich.

Argentina lost 2-0 to Bolivia, without Messi, on Tuesday night.

Messi was hit with a four-match global 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.

"The club considers the four-match suspension finally imposed on the Argentine player to be unfair and totally disproportionate".

Barcelona says it "wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field".

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 Russian Federation next summer.

"It is impossible to replace Messi", said Cesar Luis Menotti, Argentina's World Cup winning coach in 1978.

"What surprised us was the little time we were given to release a legal response", he said.

Stuttering Argentina are out of the automatic qualifying places in the CONMEBOL section with four games of the campaign remaining, and risk losing out of the World Cup for the first time since 1970. "Messi's ban is excessive". We are alive and want to qualify for the World Cup.

Colombia are now second behind Brazil who have now qualified, after they beat Ecuador 2-0 with goals from James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado. He will also miss upcoming games against Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela. That run of results had left the Brazilians outside the qualifying places in sixth place, but after changing coaches, they took maximum points from their next eight qualifying games.

Cesc Fabregas has lauded former Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi for his ability to keep "humble" despite the success that has arrived at his feet.

  • Julie Sanders