Messi to have more ball time against Nigeria: Sampaoli

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Messi to have more ball time against Nigeria: Sampaoli
Messi to have more ball time against Nigeria: Sampaoli

Saint Petersburg (Russia) : Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli says star player Lionel Messi will see more of the ball in their crucial Group D match on Tuesday against Nigeria.

Argentina suffered a 3-0 loss against Croatia on June 21, with captain Messi especially isolated, only touching the ball 20 times in the first half, Xinhua news agency reported.

"I think that match was complicated for Leo, the structure of the game did not favor him," Sampaoli told reporters during a pre-match press conference in Saint Petersburg.

"He did not get a lot of the ball from midfield and that was a mistake. If he had the ball less than usual then it is because Argentina did not dominate or have that many opportunities.

"But we have worked on that and, for the good of Argentina, I am sure Lionel Messi will have the ball much more against Nigeria than in the previous match," he added.

With only one point after two matches, Argentina are on the brink of an early exit from the World Cup.

To advance to the knockout stage, the Albiceleste must beat Nigeria and hope Iceland does not defeat Croatia in the other remaining Group D game on Tuesday.

"It's been a tough week for us. After the last match, I took responsibility for that defeat. The next day, as a coach, all I thought about was winning," Sampaoli said.

According to the Argentinian media, the coach and players have been at odds over Sampaoli's constant changes in strategy and personnel.

However, the 58-year-old was quick to defend his authority. "I am totally convinced that team will go onto the pitch with great energy to secure a victory. There will be a new page in the history of the national squad."

"We have to play the game with a lot of heart, and a lot of mental strength, to make things safe for us. Argentina's World Cup starts tomorrow."