Lionel Messi accused of cheating on free kick: Here’s the real rule

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By Susan Comstock

Lionel Messi, a cheater?

The all-time great is under fire after a controversial adjustment before his game-tying free kick Sunday during Inter Miami’s win over FC Dallas.

Moments before netting a perfectly placed trademark free kick in the 85th minute, Messi appeared to stealthily nudge the ball forward toward the center of the goal.

Some fans are unhappy with that move.

“‘Looking for an edge’ is the new way to refer to cheating, lol. And yes, I know that many others do the same…. and yes, I think they all cheat (because it’s against the rules),” one fan wrote.

“That is pure cheating. He was only able to do that because the referee wasn’t looking,” another added.

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Others, meanwhile, say Messi’s adjustment was simply veteran savvy, with a legendary player using the outer limits of the rules in a clever fashion.

So, what does the actual rule say?

According to Law 13 of the International Football Association Board, the ball “must be stationary and the kicker must not touch the ball again until it has touched another player” and “is in play when it is kicked and clearly moves.”

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi is taking heat for adjusting the ball before a free kick.
@JoePompliano / Twitter

Lionel Messi
In classic Messi fashion, the ball sailed into the top right corner of the net, outside of the goalie’s reach.
USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

With a strict reading of the policy, it would indeed appear that Messi has broken the rules, as a player is not supposed to adjust the ball until it touches another player.

But the letter of the law is not usually applied in a strict sense for free kicks, as crafty players like Messi will frequently adjust the ball so that the angle of the free kick is as advantageous as possible.

Lionel Messi
Messi is changing the fortunes of Inter Miami on a dime.
Getty Images

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami
Messi and Inter Miami celebrate after winning in penalty kicks.
Getty Images

It’s not like Messi needs much help to have brilliant performances, anyway — he scored two total goals in the Dallas match, which Miami won in penalties.

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Messi has a staggering seven goals in four games with Miami and the team is undefeated since he arrived, with his games becoming celebrity-filled events.

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