Diego Maradona has described Lionel
Messi as a ‘teddy bear’ and has vowed to
confront FIFA president Gianni Infantino
over his four-match international ban for
swearing at a linesman.
Argentina’s hopes of qualifying for next
summer’s World Cup in Russia were dealt
a body blow when world football’s
governing body handed the Barcelona star
the hefty punishment for his outburst
during their 1-0 win over Chile last
Thursday.
With Messi set to miss all but one of
Argentina’s remaining qualifiers, it doesn’t
bode well that they lost 2-0 in Bolivia
without their talisman earlier this week.
Although the Argentine Football Association
plan to appeal to FIFA over the ban,
Maradona is taking his protestations
straight to the top.
He told radio show La Oral Deportivo: ‘I
am going to speak with Infantino, I think
it’s terrible.
‘Four games is a lot. The seriousness of
Messi’s words are also very strong, but I
think it [the suspension] can be changed.
‘He is a sensational person and doesn’t do
anything except train. He is a teddy bear
with his team-mates, with everyone.’
The Argentine FA insist that Messi’s
outburst was made ‘to the air’ and not
directly to the official, but it remains to be
seen whether the ban will be reduced.
Worryingly, Argentina have won just one of
the seven World Cup 2018 qualifiers they
have played without the Barcelona star, as
opposed to winning five of six that he has
played in.
At present, Argentina sit fifth in the South
American qualification group, with four
matches left to complete. They are
currently on course for an inter-
confederation play-off against the winner
of the Oceania qualifying tournament.
And Maradona suggested his country
should look to Portugal – who won the
final of the European Championship last
season despite an injury to star man
Cristiano Ronaldo early in the game – for
inspiration.
He added: ‘Messi’s absence is crucial.
Argentina with Messi are one thing, and
quite another without.
‘If you take Ronaldo out of Portugal,
they’re still a winning team. It’s the same
with Real Madrid, and Barca, too.’