Jorge Sampaoli has challenged his Argentina squad to match the quality of star playmaker Lionel Messi as La Albiceleste prepares for their do-or-die clash with Ecuador on Tuesday.
Sampaoli’s men will most likely need a win in Quito to keep their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup alive, but the Argentina boss says that his side can’t afford to simply rely on Messi’s brilliance to see them through.
During qualifying, La Albiceleste have been without the Barcelona star for eight games during which they collected just seven points, as opposed to 18 in the nine matches he played.
Under Sampaoli, Argentina has picked up three points out of a possible nine, to leave them sitting sixth in the CONMEBOL table.
“In these three games, I led an incredible Messi — committed, pressing,” Sampaoli said in his prematch news conference.
“If we are at Messi’s level, the match will go very well.
“The message I’m spreading to the players is that they have in one hand the altitude [of Quito], Ecuador, the challenges and the missed goals.
“But on the other hand we have our belief, our players and the chance to be 90 minutes away to the World Cup.
“We have Messi, all our different options and the fact that during the last two matches we have created 28 goal chances.”
One man in particular that Sampaoli expects to shine against Ecuador is Paris Saint-Germain winger Angel Di Maria.
The former Real Madrid and Manchester United man has only made five appearances for PSG this season, but his national team boss has full confidence that the 29-year-old will be able to deliver when the pressure is on.
“Di Maria is a top player for Argentina. Besides his performances in the last matches, he is considered as one of the world’s most important wingers.
“So in such circumstances for this kind of matches he is a player that I have to consider.
“The adversity that we are experiencing now is linked to the huge desire these players have to go to the World Cup. This excessive desire they have is playing against themselves.”
The coach, however, says that his side still deserves to go to Russia next year — even if it takes a scrappy in win in Quito to do so.
“On this occasion, I’m going to be happy if the team win even if they don’t deserve it,” he said.
“I hope that qualification will be achieved because, beyond the numbers, Argentina deserve it.”