Lionel Messi received the first red card of his career with Barcelona and has received a two-game suspension. Miguel Morenatti/Associated Press

SOCCER

Lionel Messi avoided a tougher sanction and was suspended for only two matches on Tuesday after hitting an opponent in an incident away from the ball in the Spanish Super Cup final.

The Barcelona forward was facing a suspension of up to 12 matches for swinging his arm at an Athletic Bilbao player at the end of the team’s 3-2 loss on Sunday. The Spanish soccer federation’s competition committee did not deem the incident to be too serious and applied a less severe penalty. The committee also fined the club 700 euros ($845) and Messi 600 euros ($725).

Barcelona said it would appeal Messi’s suspension.

After passing the ball out to the left flank, Messi swung his right arm at the head of Athletic forward Asier Villalibre as they ran toward the box. Villalibre immediately fell to the ground and after a video review Messi was given his first red card in 753 appearances with Barcelona’s main squad.

Messi had been sent off twice while playing for Argentina’s national team, including a few seconds into his debut in a friendly against Hungary in 2005. The other time was in the 2019 Copa America in a match against Chile. He was also sent off once while playing for Barcelona’s “B” team.

Referee Gil Manzano said in his match report that Messi hit his opponent with “excessive force” while the ball was not near him.

Messi will miss Barcelona’s matches against third-division club Cornellà in the Copa del Rey and against Elche in the Spanish league. He was already expected to miss the game against Cornellà with Coach Ronald Koeman trying to keep Messi’s minutes under control to avoid serious injury.

The 33-year-old Messi had been doubtful to play in the Spanish Super Cup final because of an unspecified fitness issue that had caused Koeman to leave him out of the semifinal match against Real Sociedad on Wednesday, when Barcelona prevailed in a penalty shootout.

Messi, who asked to leave the club in the offseason but had his request denied, is having an average season compared to previous years, having scored 14 goals in 22 matches. He was far from his best on Sunday despite helping set up the team’s first goal.

U.S. MEN: The U.S. men’s soccer team will open its 2021 schedule with an exhibition against Trinidad and Tobago on Jan. 31 at Orlando, Florida.

A roster missing all Europe-based regulars has been working out in preparation for the match, which is not on a FIFA international match date. Fans will be required to wear face coverings to attend the game, the U.S. Soccer Federation said Tuesday, and there will be at least 6 feet of space between each group of fans in the stands.

The U.S. expects to have most of its regular starters available for a pair of exhibitions being planned in Europe for March 22-30.

The Americans return to competitive matches when they play Honduras in a CONCACAF Nations League semifinal from May 31 to June 8. The winner plays Mexico or Costa Rica in the championship a few days later.

The U.S. is likely to use a less-than-full-strength roster for the CONCACAF Gold Cup that starts in early July, in which the Americans have group stage matches against Canada, Martinique and either Haiti, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Guatemala or Guyana.

The U.S. starts World Cup qualifying with three matches from Aug. 30 to Sept. 7, three from Oct. 4-13 and two from Nov. 8-17.

The Americans likely will open at Trinidad and Tobago or El Salvador, then probably host Canada or Haiti, then play at Honduras.

October will include a home match against Jamaica, and probably a match at Panama or Guatemala, followed by a home game against Costa Rica.

November includes a home game against Mexico and a road match at Jamaica.

TENNIS

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Three more people linked to the Australian Open have tested positive for COVID-19 in Melbourne, increasing to 10 those associated with the Grand Slam tennis tournament that begins Feb. 8.

Victoria state Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville confirmed the new cases had been detected on Wednesday, adding that authorities are “very confident” one of the cases is a tennis player who is shedding the virus and is not infectious.

The player is already in hard lockdown as they were on board a flight into Melbourne with another positive case. The other two cases are a player and their support person.

Those 10 positive cases mean a total of 72 players remain in hard lockdown after being deemed close contacts of those positives on three charter flights into Melbourne from Abu Dhabi, Doha and Los Angeles.

There were 17 tournament charter flights that arrived into Australia over three days last week so players and their entourages could undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine ahead of the tournament.


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