Moscow (AFP) – Coach Jorge Sampaoli was bullish on the eve of Argentina’s World Cup opener against Iceland, confident his troubled side will prove themselves and downplaying “genius” Lionel Messi’s threats to quit international football.
Sampaoli predicted a tough Group D encounter with tournament debutants Iceland at Moscow’s Spartak stadium on Saturday but said his team were united and in good spirits.
The two-time champions have struggled with poor form and injuries in the lead-up to their Russian campaign but Sampaoli said intense training was reaping rewards.
“I am convinced Argentina will show we are one of the best teams in the world,” he said.
Sampaoli downplayed the need to make amends for the agonising loss to Germany in the 2014 final, saying he wanted his players to express themselves.
“We have to ignore pressure, otherwise we won’t be able to perform as we want to,” he said. “We want to enjoy every match, we want our opponents to be under pressure.”
Star forward and captain Messi is desperate to lift the trophy and has hinted he will quit if the campaign in Russia ends in failure.
Sampaoli said he believed the Barcelona player would continue to grace the world stage after Russia.
“He’s fit, well prepared and really looking forward to this World Cup and hopes to be able to make history,” he said.
“I don’t think this should be Messi’s last World Cup. I think his skills and professionalism mean he can play until he wants to. He’s a genius and he plays like a genius.
“So I don’t think it’s going to be his last World Cup.”
He denied Messi had too much responsibility, saying it was natural to build a team around such a phenomenally talented player.
“The coach organises a team to fight but it’s the players who create the chances on the pitch,” he said.
“If you have players like Messi, it’s the coach’s job to organise the team around them, to take advantage of their amazing skills.”