Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli has spoken out in defence of Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi following the forward’s crucial penalty miss against Iceland on Saturday.
La Albiceleste looked well on their way to kicking their World Cup campaign off with a win after Sergio Aguero stuck in an early goal. But the Icelandic side stayed true to their grit and scored an equaliser just four minutes later.
Messi, though, found himself with an opportunity to give his country the lead after they were awarded a penalty. But the opposition goalkeeper, Hannes Halldorsson, dove the right way and stunned the South Americans with an expert save.
“To evaluate and characterise [Messi’s] work is difficult because it was an uncomfortable match,” Sampaoli told reporters after the disappointing draw (H/T the Independent).
“Iceland was playing very defensively, blocking all possible spaces but we did everything we could for Argentina to win, above and beyond analysing the performance of every single player.
“I know Leo is very much committed to Argentina moving forward.”
The manager was left frustrated by Iceland’s defensive tactics, which were very well executed. But he has admitted that his side need to find a different way of playing when such situations arise.
“We tried to work better and create more opportunities, but what can you do? We’re just starting,” he continued. “We will learn from this experience.
“Beyond the goal scored against us, I don’t think our transitions were fast enough and we should have hurt our opponent more. In the second half we made them feel uncomfortable but they did have many people playing defensively.
“We need to find more alternatives to our style of play – alternatives that can hurt our opponent. Croatia is not the same as Nigeria or Iceland. The next game will be different and we must understand what strategy works best. This is going to be a tough group.”