Lionel Messi’s outstanding performance to save Argentina’s World Cup campaign was proof of his commitment to the country, the team’s manager, Jorge Sampaoli said, after a week of turmoil in the camp.
“He needs the support from his team mates, only then will he be able able to play at his best,” Sampaoli said. “His human side is amazing. He is a person who feels, who cries, who suffers, who’s happy when Argentina win. I’ve seen him sad and I’ve seen him happy, like he was today. People have said he doesn’t enjoy playing for Argentina. That’s not true and you saw it today.”
Messi scored Argentina’s opening goal over Nigeria, who were eliminated, to earn a second-round tie with France. Sampaoli meanwhile has faced speculation about senior players taking over control of the team and critical comments from Argentina legends.
He said: “The players played with their heart, they are true rebels. They were convinced that they’re excellent players and they have to show they are during this World Cup. The most important thing this evening was that the players were really brave – and that made the victory possible.
“A coach who trains Leo knows everyone around him need to make him feel secure. Otherwise we’ll suffer because we have the best player in the world and the other players need to benefit from that. That’s why I said the game against Croatia was our problem, not his problem.”
Messi, who remarked, “I knew that God is with us and he was not going to leave us out,” also told reporters: “We’ve suffered a lot because it was a difficult situation. There was a lot at stake and of course it was a huge relief for all of us. It was a big match because of the results before and many of the things that have been said. We didn’t think we’d suffer as much as we have.
Looking ahead to the France game, Messi said: “We’ve watched every single France game. They have very good individual players, they have very fast players who can really make a difference. And I have team-mates I know very well in the front and back line [Samuel Umtiti and Ousmane Dembele]. I know what they are I know what we’ll have to do.”