Argentina vs Nigeria (Kwesé Free Sports, 26 June at 20:00 CAT)
How do you coach a genius? This is the conundrum facing Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli, who has complained about the excessive pressure on Lionel Messi to win the FIFA World Cups. An excerpt from his soon-to-be released book My Heartbeats: Ideas Regarding the Culture of Play notes that, “A revolver called the World Cup is put to his head and if he doesn't win it, it fires and kills him. It's madness that he cannot enjoy his talent.”
Sampaoli left a prize position at Spanish club Sevilla last year to manage Argentina. His attacking instinct make him popular with the fans, but anything less than a World Cup title will be seen as failure back home.
Argentina vs Croatia (Kwesé TV’s FIFA World Cup Channel, 16 June at 15:00 CAT)
Sampaoli has made no secret of the fact that Messi is central to his plans. The problem lies in getting the rest of the squad to lift themselves so that Messi is free to express his prodigious scoring talents. The Albiceleste coach must walk a fine line between building a team that can win without Messi and acknowledging the reality that he is their lynchpin. Sampaoli puts it this way, “The biggest challenge is to optimise the team so that it does not minimise itself because of the presence of such an important player.” This means letting Messi play the way he does at Barcelona, after all it’s worked a treat for them, and giving him time on the ball in the attacking third of the pitch. That’s where Messi weaves his magic, turning 50-50, or even 40-60, contests on their head. We saw it in qualifying when a physical Ecuadorian outfit were comfortably holding Argentina until a Messi hat-trick secured a 3-1 for Argentina and ended Ecuador’s FIFA World Cup dream.
Argentina vs Croatia (Kwesé TV’s FIFA World Cup Channel, 21 June at 20:00 CAT)
If Sampaoli can use the Messi legend to inspire the rest of the squad to play above themselves, then Argentina may just be crowned World Champions come 15 July. They last won the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1986 when Diego Maradona captained them. As for comparisons to other greats, Sampaoli is in no doubt who stands tallest: “The great difference between Messi and the rest of the stars in the history of world football is his love for the ball above all things. ... Leo continues to prioritize football above everything else.”
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