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27th Jun 2018

Jorge Sampaoli ‘asked Messi’ about making Sergio Aguero change

This speaks volumes about Messi's role for Argentina

Simon Lloyd

Argentina are through to the last 16 of the World Cup


After drawing their opener with Iceland and being hammered 3-0 by Croatia in their second outing, a late winner from Manchester United’s Marcos Rojo was enough for them to see off Nigeria 2-1 and seal their qualification for the knockout stage.

Clearly, there was plenty of relief at the result – both from Argentina’s players and supporters. It’s been hard to ignore the fact that something very clearly isn’t right in their camp this tournament, with rumours that manager Jorge Sampaoli – after criticism from Diego Maradona – has fallen out with some of his players. Sampaoli’s reaction to Rojo’s goal, ignoring celebrations and walking off down the tunnel, will only fuel such talk.

It’s already been suggested that Lionel Messi, scorer of Argentina’s first goal of the night, has played a key role in leading his country out of a sticky situation. Rojo revealed that the Barcelona star’s words at half-time had inspired his winner, and footage doing the rounds on social media on Wednesday also appears to support the idea that Messi’s role isn’t exclusively a playing one.

Sampaoli Messi Aguero

Footage of a conversation between Sampaoli and Messi, taken in the closing stages with the score still at 1-1, has been circulated on Twitter since the game finished. According to Argentine outlet Ole, it shows the manager asking Messi if he should bring on Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero as a substitute.

Perhaps as a result of receiving Messi’s blessing, Sampaoli eventually introduced Aguero in the 80th minute, six minutes before Rojo volleyed home the decisive goal.

If true, it doesn’t say much for Sampaoli’s confidence in his own abilities at this moment in time. If Argentina are to progress much further in Russia, this will have to change. They will now take on France on Saturday for a place in the quarter-finals.