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Messi ban over; can play v Ecuador, says AFA president

Soccer Football - FC Barcelona players arrive for Training - Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper, Barcelona, Spain - September 7, 2020 Barcelona's Lionel Messi as he arrives for training REUTERS/Albert Gea

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Lionel Messi can play in Argentina’s opening World Cup qualifier next month because the statute of limitations has run out on the ban he was given during last year’s Copa America, the president of the Argentine Football Association (AFA) said on Thursday.

Messi was banned for one game after being sent off in the Copa America third-place playoff against Chile and for levelling accusations of “corruption” at South American soccer chiefs.

Messi had been expected to serve the ban by missing Argentina’s qualifier against Ecuador that is scheduled to take place in Buenos Aires on Oct. 8.

However, Claudio Tapia said he had consulted with the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) President Alejandro Dominguez, who “confirmed the statute of limitations had expired and that he (Messi) is able to play,” the AFA twitter said.

The Barcelona forward was shown the red card after clashing with Gary Medel and afterwards he alleged the tournament had been fixed in favour of the hosts Brazil, who beat Argentina in a controversial semi-final on their way to claiming the title.

Argentina, who last won the World Cup in 1986, kick off their qualifying campaign with a double header at home to Ecuador and away to Bolivia.

Reporting by Ramiro Scandolo in Buenos Aires; writing by Andrew Downie in London; Editing by Shri Navaratnam