Former Argentina coach, Jorge Sampaoli, has broken his silence on Argentina’s failed 2018 World Cup campaign, stating that nobody felt the pain of premature exit harder than captain Lionel Messi.
The Albiceleste crashed out in the last-16 at the hands of eventual winners France, going down 4-3 after squeezing through the group stages with a last-minute win over Nigeria.
Sampaoli was subsequently dismissed at the end of the tournament, amid reports that he had lost control of the dressing room in Russia and that a senior group of players led by Messi and Javier Mascherano took the initiative.
Messi was just one of Argentina’s stars who was well under-par at the World Cup, and Sampaoli affirmed that elimination hit him hard.
“Coaching Messi was incredible, just to see him so committed, suffering so much when we did not win,” Sampaoli told Marca in his first interview since leaving the national team.
“The best player in history was very committed. Leo suffered more than anyone the impossible task. Not being able to stand weighed on him the hardest.
“Having the best in the world in your team forces you to demand more. The rest of us have to match his level. But sometimes you can do it, sometimes you cannot. That was our struggle every single day.
“Having Leo in your team means you do not have any margin of error, you have to win.”
Messi has not played for La Albiceleste since their exit from the World Cup as he was not included in interim coach Lionel Scaloni’s two squads for friendly games since the finals.
But the former Sevilla and Chile boss affirmed that he could yet line up in the Argentina team in Qatar 2022.
“Of course he could [win the title in Qatar]. But that needs a process, after everything that has happened up to now. Processes should not be broken, they should be corrected,” he added.
“For the next World Cup or Copa America we need organisation, limitless trust and to know that everything requires its own process.
“That means that if we do not win the Copa America we have to keep the same project, not break it. Enough of this craziness that says that if you do not win you are a loser. That is not true, if you have faith you can win even if it comes later on. But you have to believe.”
Argentina are back in action with two friendlies over the coming week in Saudi Arabia.
Scaloni’s experimental Albiceleste squad take on Iraq on October 11, before taking on South American arch-rivals Brazil four days later.