Maradona vows to confront Infantino over 'teddy-bear' Messi's ban

By Joe Wright 30 March 2017
Maradona vows to confront Infantino over 'teddy-bear' Messi's ban

Argentina great Diego Maradona has described Lionel Messi as a "teddy bear" and vowed to confront FIFA president Gianni Infantino over his four-game ban.

Messi will miss all but one of Argentina's remaining World Cup qualifiers after FIFA punished him for swearing at an assistant referee following their 1-0 victory over Chile on March 23.

Edgardo Bauza's side were beaten 2-0 by Bolivia in La Paz in the absence of their talisman and now face a real battle to earn a qualifying spot for the finals in Russia in two years' time, especially as Messi will only return for the final match against Ecuador.

The Argentine Football Association (AFA) intend to appeal the ban, with Messi insisting that his remarks were made "to the air" and not directly to the official, and Maradona says he will fight his compatriot's corner to get the punishment overturned.

 "I am going to speak with Infantino, I think it's terrible," Maradona told La Oral Deportivo.

"Four games is a lot. The seriousness of Messi's words are also very strong, but I think it [the ban] 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."

Argentina have only won one of the seven qualifiers for the 2018 finals that Messi has missed, with the 2014 finalists sitting outside the automatic qualifying spots with four games left to play.

Maradona admits that they must find a way to win without the 29-year-old in the side, pointing to Portugal - who won the Euro 2016 final despite losing Cristiano Ronaldo to injury in the first half - as an example.

"Messi's absence is crucial. Argentina with Messi are one thing, and quite another without," Maradona added.

"If you take Ronaldo out of Portugal, they're still a winning team. It's the same with Real Madrid, and Barca, too."

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