Argentina reliant on Messi

June 12, 2018
Argentina soccer star Lionel Messi is expected to come big at the World Cup.

(AP):

Without Lionel Messi, would Argentina even be going to the World Cup?

The team's destiny is more closely tied to the Barcelona forward than ever before.

There are plenty of doubts for coach Jorge Sampaoli ahead of the tournament in Russia.

Defender Javier Mascherano is reaching the end of his career, while striker Sergio Ag¸ero and midfielder Lucas Biglia both experienced injury problems recently. Paulo Dybala is yet to deliver for his country despite all the promise on display at Juventus.

Much of the squad also carries the burden of mass disappointment, following three successive losses in finals: 2014 World Cup, 2015 Copa America and 2016 Copa America.

Argentina secured their spot in Russia in the last round of South American qualifiers thanks to Messi's hat trick against Ecuador. The deficiencies in the team were underscored in a 6-1 loss to Spain - absent Messi - in a friendly in March.

The 58-year-old Sampaoli took over in June 2017 to replace Edgardo Bauza when Argentina were on the verge of missing a World Cup spot.

Sampaoli was never a footballer and didn't manage a first division club at home, developing his career in Peru and then Chile. His success at Universidad de Chile pushed him to the Chilean national team in 2012.

At the 2014 World Cup, Sampaoli's Chile reached the round of 16 but lost to host Brazil on penalties. But a year later, Chile won their first-ever title while hosting the Copa America.

Sampaoli's first experience in European football came with Sevilla in 2016, but he quickly left to carry Argentina to the World Cup in their last four games of the South American qualifiers.

 

Sampaoli's style

 

Drawing inspiration from Marcelo Bielsa, Sampaoli likes his teams to attack as a bloc to impose their superiority. But Argentina are still to implement his style after 10 matches.

Sergio Romero was set to be Argentina's No. 1 in his third World Cup. But just after Sampaoli included him in the final list, the Argentine soccer federation announced that he will miss the tournament because of a right-knee injury. The competition to replace him will be among River Plate's Franco Armani, who has been outstanding with River Plate this season, and Chelsea's Wilfredo Caballero. Armani has not played for Argentina, but is now the people's favorite at home.

Caballero has not been a starter for Chelsea, but he's known for his quick reflexes. The 36-year-old saved three penalties to win the League Cup for his previous club Manchester City. He also consistently displays strong skills with his feet, which could be the deciding factor for Sampaoli. The team's third option is Nahuel Guzman (Tigres, Mexico).

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