SAM­PAOLI TO THE RES­CUE?

Ar­gentina crave coach’s magic touch in World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion bid

New Straits Times - - Sport -

AR­GENTINA hope their new coach Jorge Sam­paoli’s magic touch, along with re­turn­ing striker Lionel Messi’s magic skills, will spirit them through a rocky qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign to the 2018 World Cup.

Sam­paoli moved a step closer to tak­ing over the va­cant po­si­tion as Ar­gentina coach on Fri­day as his cur­rent club side Sevilla said they had reached a deal with the Ar­gen­tine FA (AFA).

In one year at Sevilla he coached them to an im­pres­sive fourth place in the Span­ish league, be­hind the might of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

Now he is leav­ing Sevilla fans and man­age­ment dis­grun­tled and com­ing back to his home coun­try just when it needs him.

“I al­ways dreamed of (coach­ing) the na­tional team,” Sam­paoli, 57, said re­cently.

“I want to get back to tal­ent and the art of drib­bling, in or­der to move for­ward.”

Ar­gentina will be grate­ful if he just gets them on the plane to Rus­sia 2018.

In March they looked like they risked fail­ing to qual­ify for the World Cup for the first time since 1970.

That was af­ter a hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat to Bo­livia and Messi’s four-match sus­pen­sion for swear­ing at a ref­eree.

The ban has since been lifted and the two-time world cham­pi­ons — ranked num­ber two in the world by Fifa — face an up­hill strug­gle, in fifth place in their qual­i­fy­ing group.

Ar­gentina face four fur­ther World Cup qual­i­fy­ing games, start­ing with a stern test away to Uruguay in Au­gust.

Only the top four qual­ify au­to­mat­i­cally for the tour­na­ment in Rus­sia next year with fifth-place earn­ing a play­off against the win­ners of the Ocea­nia re­gion.

Messi is one of the world’s big­gest foot­ball stars, but his glory days with Barcelona have co­in­cided with a dark pe­riod for his na­tional team.

Ar­gentina have won only one of eight World Cup 2018 qual­i­fiers played with­out him, com­pared to five out of six won with him on the pitch.

The na­tional side’s malaise is a mys­tery at first glance, given their star qual­ity with var­i­ous play­ers in top Euro­pean clubs.

But the team have been un­der­mined by a broader cri­sis af­flict­ing the Ar­gentina game, tan­gled up with pol­i­tics and a power strug­gle in the AFA man­age­ment that broke out in 2014.

Ar­gentina’s World Cup hero Diego Maradona last year branded the AFA’s man­age­ment a “mafia.” The fed­er­a­tion in March picked new ex­ec­u­tives tasked with end­ing the tur­moil.

Sam­paoli faces a big chal­lenge at the helm of an Ar­gentina team widely re­garded, de­spite their rank­ing, as play­ing an ugly game and re­ly­ing on the out­size tal­ent of Messi for wins.

The team need a morale boost af­ter a dif­fi­cult 2016, when Messi threat­ened to quit the squad af­ter they lost on penal­ties to Chile in the Copa Amer­ica Cen­te­nario fi­nal.

That cri­sis prompted then­coach Ger­ardo Martino to quit and be re­placed by Edgardo Bauza, who was fired last month.

“You have to try to im­bue the play­ers with a love of the shirt,” Sam­paoli said.

“With en­joy­ment of the game — not with a sense of obli­ga­tion.”

Sam­paoli will start his reign with friendlies against Brazil on June 9 in Aus­tralia and against Sin­ga­pore on June 13.

The lat­est Ar­gentina lineup an­nounced by the AFA no­tably ex­cludes Manch­ester City star Ser­gio Aguero, but in­cludes a po­ten­tial ris­ing star, In­ter Mi­lan goalscorer Mauro Icardi.

Sam­paoli has top cre­den­tials, hav­ing coached Chile to a Copa Amer­ica ti­tle in 2015 — beat­ing Messi’s Ar­gentina in the fi­nal.

The man­ager has coached sev­eral teams in Ecuador, Peru and Chile, but never a top-league Ar­gen­tine side.

He has de­scribed him­self as a dis­ci­ple of an­other Ar­gen­tine coach who has made a mark with Chile and in Europe: Lille coach Marcelo Bielsa.

The lat­ter played down the com­pli­ment.

“He is bet­ter than me,” Bielsa said. AFP

AP PIC

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.