Argentina's Lionel Messi, right, celebrates after the group D match against Nigeria at the FIFA World Cup 2018 in the St. Petersburg.(AP)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, right, celebrates after the group D match against Nigeria at the FIFA World Cup 2018 in the St. Petersburg.(AP)

Create passes to Lionel Messi, he’ll create opportunities for us in FIFA World Cup 2018: Jorge Sampaoli

Lionel Messi’s efforts in Argentina’s Group D win against Nigeria was appreciated by coach Jorge Sampaoli. Messi scored Argentina’s opening goal
Hindustan Times, St Petersburg | By Bhargab Sarmah
UPDATED ON JUN 27, 2018 08:46 PM IST

Argentina aren’t missing a single game at this World Cup. Their schedule may be tight but that hasn’t stopped the players from watching all games on TV.

“Of course, we have watched all of France’s games. We have watched every single game at this World Cup,” revealed Lionel Messi in his post-match media conference when asked about his Round of 16 opponents.

After a night of great relief when Argentina avoided the embarrassment of group stage elimination, they will have to prepare for a sterner test when they take on France in Kazan on Saturday.

READ | How Lionel Messi’s words inspired Argentina to victory over Nigeria

“France have a very good team with many skilled players. A good defence, a good midfield, and very good forwards; I have many good friends in that team,” Messi said.

“They have very fast players who can really make a difference. We know what we will have to do. It will be a very tough game, without a doubt.”

Messi and Co can perhaps draw inspiration from France’s own campaign at the 2006 World Cup when Zinedine Zidane led an incredible turnaround after below-par showings in the opening two games, taking the side to the final.

Argentina will have to do something similar now, starting with their game against France, to make it deep into the tournament.

READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: ‘Argentina must make Lionel Messi feel secure’

“The most important thing about this evening was that the players were really brave, and that courage made the second goal possible,” coach Jorge Sampaoli said after the 2-1 win over Nigeria.

Argentina will have to conjure up the same spirit as the 2014 World Cup runners-up bid to go one better in what could be Messi’s final tilt at the biggest prize in the game.

The path for La Albiceleste doesn’t look smooth. A win over France will take them to Nizhny Novgorod, the scene of their 3-0 loss to Croatia, for a quarterfinal against either Portugal or Uruguay.

If they manage to negotiate that game, they are likely to be up against Brazil, Germany or Belgium in the semi-finals.

Sampaoli isn’t worried though. “Every match now is a final. This was the first of five; now we have four more,” he told reporters.

READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: Lionel Messi’s got a new BFF in Ever Banega

The idea now, according to Sampaoli, is to get the best out of his biggest star. “We have the best player in the world and everybody needs to benefit from it.”

Making a simplified assessment of how Messi could be key to his team’s hopes, Sampaoli said, “A coach who trains Leo knows that he has to make him secure in his role. If we can create passes to Leo, he can create opportunities for us.

“Every single time he plays, he shows that he is above anybody else but he needs the support of his teammates. Only then will he be able to play at his best like he did today.”

It was a one of the more joyous nights for Sampaoli in Russia so far. The knives had been out for him back in Argentina after the struggles in the opening two games. If Argentina go beyond the Round of 16, Sampaoli may have a good shot at rescuing his coaching career with the national team.

It will, however, require Messi to be at his best.

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