Saint Petersburg: Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli praised his team for their 2018 FIFA World Cup victory against Nigeria and said the match proved that FC Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi enjoyed playing for his country. Messi scored Argentina’s opening goal at the Saint Petersburg Stadium here on Tuesday evening. After Nigeria equalized through a penalty, Marcos Rojo’s late volley ensured Argentina were spared an early exit from the World Cup, reports Xinhua news agency.
“Today they were able to win against a very tough opponent. We had the necessary strength to fight to the very last minute,” Sampaoli told reporters at the post-match press conference. “The most important thing was that the players were really brave and that made the victory possible,” he added.
The coach also refuted the notion that Messi didn’t enjoy playing for his country. “He is a person who feels, who cries, who suffers, who’s happy when Argentina win. I’ve seen him sad and I’ve seen him happy, like he was today. People have said he doesn’t enjoy playing for Argentina. That’s not true and you saw it today,” Sampaoli said.
The 58-year-old coach praised Messi for his outstanding performance, while adding that the Argentina captain needed support from the other players. “A coach who trains Leo knows everyone around him needs to make him feel secure. Otherwise, we’ll suffer because we have the best player in the world and the other players need to benefit from that. That’s why I said the game against Croatia was our problem, not his problem,” he added. With the victory, Argentina finished second in Group D to secure a place in the round of 16, where they will play France in Kazan on June 30.