Argentina’s do-or-die clash against Nigeria on Tuesday can be the launch pad for a woeful start to the World Cup, insisted defiant coach Jorge Sampaoli after seeing off calls for him to lose his job in the middle of the tournament.
Failure to beat the Africans will see the five-time world player of the year Lionel Messi’s wait to win an international trophy continue, with the added humiliation of bowing out at the group stages without even winning a game in Russia.
A 3-0 thrashing by Croatia after Argentina opened with a 1-1 draw against Iceland saw calls for Sampaoli to even be sacked amid reports of player unrest at his tactics and team selection.
But after a tumultuous week including meetings between the squad, coach and Argentina FA president Claudio Tapia in recent days, Sampaoli tried to put a positive spin on Argentina’s fate still being in their own hands.
“We have to make our goal five games to reach the final. Tomorrow will be the first final,” Sampaoli told reporters on the eve of the game in Saint Petersburg.
“No matter who plays tomorrow will have the obligation to give until the last bead of sweat so that Argentina will go through.
“We don’t have any alternative and I am sure this is how it will go. Tomorrow, I am sure that they will see the best version of Argentina at this World Cup.”
Sampaoli has been fiercely criticised for his inability to find a system to get the best out of Messi, but hit back at his treatment from what he described as press living in a “virtual world”.
“Losing a game of football makes you a loser. Sometimes in the virtual world, it makes you feel like a criminal for having lost a game of football.”