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

Lionel Messi helped Argentina into FIFA World Cup’s last 16 and coach Jorge Sampaoli wants the team to support its star player.

football Updated: Jun 27, 2018 12:26 IST
Omnisport, St Petersburg
FIFA World Cup 2018,Lionel Messi,Jorge Sampaoli
Lionel Messi’s Argentina beat Nigeria 2-1 to qualify for the pre-quarterfinals of FIFA World Cup 2018. (REUTERS)

Argentina head coach Jorge Sampaoli believes making captain Lionel Messi “feel secure” is key to his side’s chances at the FIFA World Cup.

Messi scored the opening goal as a late Marcos Rojo volley earned Argentina a decisive 2-1 win over Nigeria in St Petersburg on Tuesday to set up a last-16 clash with Group C winners France. (ARG vs NGR HIGHLIGHTS)

Sampaoli used his third different tactical setup of Russia 2018 in a bid to get the best out of Messi, who drew a blank in a 1-1 draw with Iceland and a 3-0 loss to Croatia, missing a penalty in the former match.

And the Argentina coach, who has been strongly criticised by former players including Diego Maradona, makes no excuses for building his team’s attacking threat around Barcelona superstar Messi.

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“When Leo came and hugged me it made me very proud and happy, because he knows I am passionate every single day,” Sampaoli said.

“I have had the opportunity to travel with him and share moments with him. He knows me well, and knows we have this dream to come to Russia and do something important for Argentina.

“His position in the team - playing three midfielders and Leo on the right trying to create more passes on the inside to get to the goal on the outside.

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“I was pleased with Ever [Banega], Enzo [Perez], Javi [Mascherano] and Leo, they have stopped our opponents creating any transitions.

“A coach who has to train Leo knows everybody surrounding him needs to make him feel secure, and if we are able to create passes to Leo we can create chances. Otherwise we suffer.

“We have the best player in the world and the other players need to benefit from that. That’s why I said the match against Croatia was our problem, not his problem.”

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Argentina survived a scare to progress, a penalty appeal for an apparent handball by Rojo rejected after the referee checked the VAR, the defender going on to score the winner with four minutes to go.

But Sampaoli said his side deserved to go through to the next round, where they will be tested by France.

“We had planned and I think the first half went well. We were better than Nigeria,” Sampaoli added. “We were also able to move forward and have many touches in the midfield.

“After the penalty we got nervous and were worried about not going through, but we were very happy at the end.

“As I have said before, my players play with heart, they are true rebels. They had a very difficult thing to do, and this is now a good opportunity for the future.

“The first half today was great. Now we need consistency in the future. We’ve managed to do so and have been able to go through. Every match is a final. We need to be cohesive to win against France.”

First Published: Jun 27, 2018 07:57 IST