LONDON • Lionel Messi is free to represent Argentina in their forthcoming World Cup qualifiers after his suspension for allegedly abusing an assistant referee was overturned on appeal.
The 29-year-old Barcelona striker was banned for four international matches and fined 10,000 Swiss francs (S$14,200) for supposedly "having directed insulting words" at an official during Argentina's World Cup qualifying clash with Chile on March 23.
He was banned for the subsequent 2-0 defeat by Bolivia as a result but will return to contention as under-performing Argentina prepare for crucial meetings with Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru as they fight for a place at next summer's World Cup Finals in Russia.
Argentina are also due to play Singapore at the National Stadium on June 13. The match has been classed as a 'B' friendly, which would have allowed a banned Messi to play. It remains to be seen if this will now be upgraded to an 'A' friendly.
A Fifa statement read: "The Fifa appeal committee has upheld the appeal lodged by the Argentinian Football Association, on behalf of the player Lionel Messi, against the decision taken by the Fifa disciplinary committee, lifting the sanctions imposed on him as a result."
During the Chile game, Messi was caught on camera venting his fury at an assistant who signalled that he had committed a foul late on in Argentina's 1-0 win. He was not shown a card at the time.
Despite upholding Argentina's appeal, the Fifa committee stressed it "considered Messi's behaviour as reproachable" but concluded "the evidence available was not sufficient to establish" that an infringement had occurred.
It added: "The Appeal Committee nevertheless underlines the importance of always showing respect to the match officials."
When Messi was first punished, his club Barcelona released an angry statement expressing their "surprise and outrage", adding that the Rosario-born forward was an "exemplary sportsman".
His fresh availability for international duty could be a problem for the Catalan club, however.
Argentina, currently without a coach following the departure of Edgardo Bauza last month, risk missing out on automatic qualification for the 2018 World Cup. To that end, the trip to Uruguay in late August will be vital.
If picked, Messi will remain in South America to face Venezuela on Sept 5.
By the time Argentina tackle Peru in October they will have hoped to climb into the top four places in the Conmebol standings, while Barca will be suitably keen to see their star return to Spain uninjured.