Argentina’s players and their embattled coach, Jorge Sampaoli, have reached a breaking point after the team’s 3-0 defeat to Croatia. Here’s what’s going on.
Argentina’s players are in revolt after a reportedly failed coup attempt to oust their manager as the team prepare for Tuesday’s must-win World Cup match against Nigeria.
The past few days have been fraught with anger and frustration within the Argentine camp after the country’s FA confirmed on Friday that it has no plans to sack the embattled Jorge Sampaoli following the team’s humiliating 3-0 defeat to Croatia.
The headline in Sunday morning’s Clarin, one of the country’s largest newspapers, summed it up best: “Sampaoli continues, but the players aren’t responding.”
Argentina, in last place in Group D with a chance to still advance, remain a dysfunctional and wounded team, appearing to be imploding with each passing day.
Tensions rose just a day after their humiliating 3-0 loss to Croatia when it was reported that a secret meeting was held Friday night, spearheaded by Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano, that involved asking Sampaoli to step down to be replaced by technical director and 1986 World Cup star Jorge Burruchaga.
Ricardo Giusti, one of Burrachaga’s former Argentina teammates, said the mood inside the camp was terrible. He also said the players are the ones who want to come up with the lineup for the Nigeria game, leaving Sampaoli out of the process altogether.
“The players want to build the team… They are going to pick the side,” Giusti said. “Sampaoli can sit on the bench if he wants, but it won’t matter. It will be nothing to do with him.”
Sampaoli has increasingly come under fire from the fans and even the legendary Diego Maradona since last Thursday’s pounding at the hands of Croatia, forcing him to “beg for their forgiveness” during the post-match news conference.
“I would beg for their forgiveness, especially those Argentina supporters who made such a great effort to be here,” he said. “And I repeat what I said, I’m responsible. I was just as dreamy-eyed as any fan before. So I’m hurt.”
Reports out of the Argentine camp that the players are no longer listening to their coach don’t bode well if this team hope to reach the round of 16. However, it was also reported that Argentina’s FA head, Claudio Tapia, the coaching staff and players had come up with a peace agreement after meeting at the team’s base camp in Bronnitsy, located in suburban Moscow, and deciding to “get together and move forward.”
Despite talk of a coup, Sampaoli held a routine team practice on Saturday, but did not address reporters.
In an impromptu news conference on Sunday, Tapia denied there was dissension in the ranks and confirmed that Sampaoli was not going to be sacked during the tournament.
Argentina will need to get more out of Messi, under fire at this tournament since missing a penalty kick in the 1-1 draw against Iceland, as well as their other offensive weapons, including Manchester City star Sergio Aguero. Juventus stars Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuian, who some would like to see start, have been on the bench for much of this tournament.
The defense along with starting goalkeeper Willy Caballero have been shambolic at this tournament. It was Caballero’s second-half blunder that allowed Croatia to take the lead and go on to win the game.
The 2014 World Cup runners up and Nigeria have a long World Cup rivalry dating back to their first meeting at USA ’94. In total, the sides have met four times, the last time just four years ago. Argentina have won every one of those games as they prepare for Tuesday’s highly-anticipated match.
Nonetheless, the history that this Argentina squad are making in Russia hasn’t been built on success. Rather, it has exposed years of ineptitude by the country’s FA and the inability of its coach to select the right players and stick to a formation that would bring the best out of Messi.