Barcelona [Spain], Mar.30 (ANI): Argentina star striker Lionel Messi has asserted his innocence after being hit with a four-match international ban for verbally abusing an official, saying that he was yelling `to the air`.
The action has been taken by FIFA's disciplinary panel against Messi for his insults aimed at - and comments about the mother of - Brazilian assistant referee Dewson Silva during Argentina's 1-0 win over Chile last week.
The Barcelona forward was caught on video invoking "the c*** of [Silva's] mother" as he appeared livid against an officiating decision. Match referee Sandro Ricci did not include the incident in his report but FIFA confirmed they were investigating regardless after being made aware of the footage.
Having already missed his side's 0-2 defeat against Bolivia on Tuesday due to the ban, Messi insisted that he has been unfairly punished with the suspension as his insults were not at all directed at an official.
"My sayings were never addressed to the assistant, but they were said to the air," goal.com quoted Messi as saying.
Earlier, Argentina had announced their intention to appeal the ban, which would also see Messi miss three more of remaining four World Cup qualifying matches against Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru if unchanged.
Revealing that Argentina would appeal the FIFA sanction, national team secretary Jorge Miadosqui had said that he was quite surprised with the way the issue was handled.
"We are surprised by the decision that has been taken.We are very angry because of the way it was handled hours before playing," Miadosqui had said.
"We are going to appeal the FIFA sanction. There are previous [examples] to believe the punishment can be decreased. Messi is sad, as we all are. We do not agree with the way in which this was handled," he had added.
The Edgardo Bauza-led side are currently standing at fifth place in the CONMEBOL section with four games remaining. The top four sides will progress automatically to Russia, while the fifth-placed team goes into a playoff against a team from Oceania for a spot in Russia.(ANI)