Much of Argentina’s pre-match press conference ahead of their important World Cup clash with Nigeria at St Petersburg was devoted to the apparent frosty relationship between the Argentine media and national team coach Jorge Sampaoli.
The former Chile manager had consistently been criticised in the media back home before and during the tournament but their feud reached a crescendo after the Seleçion’s awful performance in the loss to Croatia in their second group game last Thursday.
To worsen the situation, a lot of camp unrest and anarchy were reported in the global press, emanating from Argentina, such as those which reported that the coach is no longer in control of the team and that the player will select those that will play against Nigeria.
“It is a very difficult week for us after that loss. It was painful for us so we now find ourselves with everything at stake and many things that have been said in the media are unfortunate,” began Sampaoli.
“I do not respond to things being said in the media. I have a job to do with people around me so I care less about what is being said in the media. I am focused on the job in my hand and on the game against Nigeria so as to open a new chapter with this team,” he added.
Pressed further to clarify or set straight, some of the staggering information that emanated from the camp, the 58-year old was vehement.
“I cannot clarify things that are untrue and cannot exist. I took responsibility after the last game and all I have in my mind is on how to focus on the next game.
“I am the coach of this team so the following day (after the loss to Croatia), I started to think about how we can win tomorrow as a team.”
On the game billed for the Saint Petersburg Stadium, Sampaoli expects an entertaining game as both teams still have plenty to play for.
“Well, both teams have chances to go through so that means it will be an entertaining game.
“Argentina have to play with their hearts. This team is absolutely determined to win the match, move to the round of sixteen and start a new page at this World Cup tournament,” submitted the 58-year old.
The effervescent manager is expected to make a number of changes to his side ahead of the game and one of such is expected to be in goal where Chelsea goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero whose costly error proved decisive against being dropped by Samapoli.
Caballero’s replacement is likely to be Franco Armani, a highly rated goalkeeper based in Argentina. The 31-year old is uncapped for the national team but believes he is ready to help his team progress.
“You always dream about playing for the national team ever since you’re a kid. My career has been a process which has helped me in getting here at this moment.
“God has given us this opportunity and tomorrow (Tuesday) we might qualify for the round of sixteen, we will face the game tomorrow with faith and a mindset that we can win and go through,” said the River Plate goalkeeper who is roommates with Caballero.
The team are likely to switch to a 4-3-3 formation for the game against Nigeria on Tuesday night. The game kicks off at 9pm local time (7pm in Nigeria).