Exactly seven days ago, i opined in these very column inches that Argentina are outsiders to win the World Cup because they’ve lost the fear factor.
It’s twice as hard to subdue a hitherto inferior opponent if they hold no fear for your team. Croatia proved it last night when they blew away Jorge Sampaoli’s Pumas in a rampant performance.
The former Universidad de Chile, Seville and Chile national team coach’s bosses at the Argentina FA ought to have wielded the axe on account of the Pumas lacklustre displays during qualifying. A team with such an embarrassment of attacking talent only made it to Russia courtesy of a Lionel Messi hat-trick against Ecuador in the ultimate qualifier.
What I didn’t say then, which I can now confirm; is that Argentina coach Sampaoli is not the man to lead the 1978 and 1986 World Cup winners to Promised Land. Don’t be fooled by his animated touchline demeanour. Sampaoli doesn’t know what he is doing.
The warning signs were made clearer in build up matches as the Pumas floundered to a staggering 6-1 mauling at the hands of Spain, and a 4-2 reversal to their Group Of Death opponents, Nigeria.
By the time Croatia inflicted Argentina’s worst group stage defeat since 1958, Sampaoli should have been long gone.
Never one to mince his words, the great Diego Maradona has already asked Sampaoli not to set foot in his home country after the World Cup.
Ninety percent of the coaches in Russia would be salivating at the prospect of managing Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Angel Di Maria. The assortment of attackers have instead reduced Sampaoli into a confused speculator.
He simply has no answer to a straight forward tactical conundrum requiring him to get the best out of the world’s most accomplished club footballer.
Mauro Icardi, who would almost certainly be a starter in Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia, was altogether omitted because Sampaoli didn’t want to confuse himself with options!
Argentina could yet qualify for the knock out stages. But it is no longer in their own hands courtesy of one man. Jorge Sampaoli.