A little over a month ago, some snitches in the Chile soccer federation ratted out Lionel Messi for saying some mildly harsh words to a referee after an international match. FIFA suspended Messi for four matches in response, endangering Argentina’s chances to qualify for the World Cup and threatening to deprive all soccer lovers of probably the best storyline going into next summer’s tournament: whether the best player to ever live could solidify his legacy by snagging the game’s biggest trophy in the final World Cup of his prime. Thankfully, justice has been served today; FIFA’s appeal committee announced that they have overturned the suspension.
FIFA explained in a press release that the decision to lift the suspension was based on there not being enough evidence—presumably of either what exactly Messi said, what his intentions were, and whether his words were specifically targeted at the ref or, as he claimed, said “at the air” to no one in particular. From the press release:
Despite the fact that the FIFA Appeal Committee considered Lionel Messi’s behaviour as reproachable, the former concluded that the evidence available was not sufficient to establish to the appropriate standard, i.e. to the comfortable satisfaction of the members of the Appeal Committee, that art. 77 a) of the FDC, according to which the Disciplinary Committee is responsible for sanctioning serious infringements which have escaped the match officials’ attention, could be applied.
The Appeal Committee nevertheless underlines the importance of always showing respect to the match officials, stressing that such a principle is essential in football and any unsporting conduct that may be contrary to the principles of fair play cannot be accepted.
Right now, Argentina are in fifth place in the CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying table. If qualifying ended today, Messi and his compatriots would enter a two-leg playoff against a team from Oceania for rights to compete in Russia’s 2018 World Cup. They’re only two points out of second place, but also just two points from getting bumped out of qualification. Qualifying will be tight until the very end. Armed with Messi, though, and under the leadership of Jorge Sampaoli—the great new coach Argentina will almost certainly hire in the coming months—things seem promising for the Albiceleste.