March 30, 2017

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Lionel Messi's four-match ban in World Cup qualifying was unfair and irregular, the new president of the Argentine Football Association claimed.

Claudio Tapia, elected on Wednesday, also said Messi was banned from four of Argentina's last five qualifiers because AFA had lost its influence at FIFA.

Messi was banned on Tuesday by FIFA for verbally abusing an assistant referee in a qualifier against Chile last week. Argentina, lying fifth and out of the automatic qualifying spots in the South American standings, is expected to struggle without its best player.

''(Messi's ban) is not fair and it doesn't abide by the rules,'' Tapia said.

''Part of the situation we live in, in Argentine football, is due to the loss of representation at South American and FIFA levels. Our task is to rebuild those ties. We have to sit down with the FIFA president, and hire the best professionals to reduce the sanctions (against Messi.)''

Tapia also gave conditional support to national coach Edgardo Bauza, who was under heavy pressure to resign.

''We have to make a profound analysis of all contracts signed by the previous administration,'' Tapia said, and soon ''we will have to meet with him (Bauza). Then we will see what is best.

''We have to give support to the coach, to give everything so Argentina can qualify.''

Tapia was elected unopposed as the new president, despite coming from third-division club Barracas Central. He drew unconditional support from small clubs like his. His deputies, though, were presidents of top clubs such as Boca Juniors, Independiente, and Racing Club. River Plate opposed his election.

His election also ended the job of the interim commission assigned by FIFA in mid-2016. FIFA took over administration of AFA after it fell into crisis following the death of Julio Grondona, who was president for 35 years until his death in mid-2014.

Tapia said he will not style his presidency on Grondona.

''Argentine football cannot be led by one man alone,'' he said. ''We are all necessary.''

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