Argentina: fresh start or temporary reprieve?
Argentina kept the World Cup hopes alive on Tuesday when securing a win over Nigeria. Lionel Messi said ‘he could not remember suffering before’, while for the Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli it was a huge relief that his team was able to avoid elimination.
Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo saved Argentina from catching an early flight home with a superb volley in the 86th minute. The 2-1 win over Nigeria sent them through to a last-16 tie against France. They were able to redeem themselves from a disastrous 3-0 defeat by Croatia, and redeem their reputation casting aside any connotations of being ‘the worst team ever’.
A change to a back four brought about a much-improved first-half display, and they led at the breakthrough Messi’s expertly taken goal. Messi showed up for his country, and so did Rojo, for it was his late striked that earned Argentina passage into the last 16.
“It was a difficult situation,” said Messi, who was pictured giving a team talk in the tunnel before the players came back out for the second half.
“It was a huge release and relief for all of us. It is a huge joy for everyone for the difficult days we lived after the last defeat. Luckily we achieved our objective.”
Sampaoli was embraced by Messi at full-time and said suggestions the Barcelona forward – who briefly retired from international football in 2016 – is not committed to the national side are not true.
“Every time Lionel Messi plays he shows that he is a fantastic player, above everybody else, but he needs support from his team-mates,” said Sampaoli.
“His human side is amazing. He cries and suffers, he is happy when Argentina win. It’s important he shares those feelings. Many people say Leo does not enjoy playing for Argentina, but I don’t agree.
“My players play with their heart – they are true rebels.”
Argentina next face Group C winners France on Saturday with match-winner Rojo saying; “Now the World Cup begins for us.”