By Duro Ikhazuagbe in Volgograd
Argentina camp here at the FIFA World Cup in Russia is in turmoil. The reason for the crisis is the 3-0 defeat handed out to the Albiceleste by Croatia on Thursday night to narrow the chances of the South American nation making it to the knockout stage a difficult one.
Now, with Argentina’s last Group D game against Nigeria on Tuesday a difficult battle ahead, Manchester City forward, Sergio Aguero, has hit out at Coach Jorge Sampaoli, insisting he can take a walk from the team he has mismanaged.
At the post-match press conference immediately after the loss to Croatia, Aguero was in no mood whatsoever to hang around the team as he stormed out of his very brief and heated interview.
“Let him say what he wants,” said Aguero in a caustic manner to reporters in apparent reference to Sampaoli’s defence of his poor tactics that failed woefully to unlock the Croatian defence.
With Argentina on the brink of World Cup elimination from the group stage of the Mundial here in Russia, Sampaoli admitted that his ‘project has failed’ and that he struggled to find a system to get the best out of Lionel Messi and Co.
Sampaoli refused to blame Messi for the inability of Argentina to pick a point from the match.
He also took the blame as he tried to deflect the criticism from a terrible goalkeeping mistake by Willy Caballero who gifted Ante Rebic for Croatia’s first goal.
“It’s not right to blame Caballero,” said Sampaoli, looking bemused during his post-match news conference.
“If I’d planned things differently, it would have worked out differently. I honestly thought the plan for this match was going to put pressure on the opponent. But after the disaster of the first goal, it was tough, we were lost emotionally.
“Our driving force is Leo, but we couldn’t find him. We work as a team to get the ball to Leo, but also the other team works to avoid that.
“There is shame, pain, at not delivering for the Argentine people. It’s been a long time since I felt like this, and now it’s happening with the shirt of my own country. It hurts badly.
“It’s not the boss’s partial responsibility, it’s his total responsibility,” said Sampaoli, after presiding over Argentina’s heaviest defeat in the World Cup group stage since 1958, a result that saw Croatia qualify for the last 16.
Third in Group D with one point after two games, Argentina is now struggling to scrape into the second round and an exit at this stage would be humiliating for a team of their stature.
Croatia qualified from their group with a match to spare thanks to goals from Ante Rebic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
If Argentina goes ahead to fire Sampaoli because of the poor show here, he will become the third Argentine coach sacked during their troubled qualification phase – Gerardo Martino and Edgardo Bauza.
Lloris Savouring His Century for France
Imperious during France’s second game at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, Hugo Lloris rode to his team’s rescue during the first half against Peru. It was a familiar sight, the goalkeeper having also averted disaster against Australia at almost the exact same moment in the match. But while he went on to concede a penalty against the Socceroos, this time Lloris held firm until the final whistle.
How important that clean sheet proved. Not only did he help Les Bleus book their spot in the Round of 16, the France captain also found the perfect way to celebrate a personal landmark – his 100th international cap. “I feel good,” he explained afterwards, before turning his focus to the team’s performance. “Together we were very solid and aggressive, and we stood up to Peru’s pressing. That was our platform.”
Lloris played his own role, of course, and he admitted to feeling moved by reaching his century. “On a personal level, I couldn’t have this enjoyed this 100th appearance more,” he said, having also worn the captain’s armband a record 76 times. “Despite that, for me it was like any other game: you have to put that to one side when you’re on the pitch. I stayed focused, professional, and my only motivation was to win and give everything for the team.”
Modest to a fault, the former Lyon custodian has never enjoyed being the centre of attention and at 31 years of age, with a decade in the France line-up behind him, he is clearly not about to change. Instead, he quickly shifted the spotlight back onto his team’s display: “We were able to make the difference with our goal and then we managed to control the game. I’m very satisfied.”
Enough to maybe speak a little more about his own achievement? It was worth one last try, with a prompt to discuss his longevity, consistency and strengths. What, in short, is Lloris’s secret? “Hard work,” he replied, possibly to nobody’s great surprise. “It’s always a question of hard work … and challenging yourself as well.”
That combination has allowed Lloris to make France’s No1 shirt his own since 2008. As the years roll on, however, he will eventually have to pass on the gloves – and he already has advice for any future challengers. “You have to learn to savour it,” explained the Nice academy graduate. “It flies by. To represent your country is an opportunity and a privilege, and you have to tell yourself that and repeat it because the years go by so quickly in football. It’s not enough to just be in the team: you have to stay there for as long as possible.”
The France captain has done just that for the last ten years, providing an obstacle at the back with solid performances and decisive saves. And he served another potent reminder of his worth by thwarting Paolo Guerrero with his feet against Peru, preventing a goal that could have changed the course of the game.
“Hugo deserves his record and it’s great that he was able to celebrate it without conceding,” added Olivier Giroud, quick to congratulate his skipper and give us his thoughts on a superb milestone. “He was very good once again this evening.” The rest of his team-mates – and a grateful nation – would no doubt concur.
SuperSport Launches New World Cup Shows for DStv, GOtv Subscribers
DStv and GOtv subscribers will have access to new top-notch shows and more gateways to the glamour of the ongoing FIFA World Cup on SuperSport.
The new shows will ensure that DStv and GOtv subscribers do not miss a single action on or off the pitch.
Lifestyle magazine show, From Russia with Love will showcase sights and sounds of the World Cup in Russia and transport it back home to Africa. The show, which runs on weekends, will be anchored by Minnie Dlamini, Thato Moeng alongside Nigeria’s Charles Anazodo.
There will also be daily one-hour news special on weekdays at 6 am on SuperSport Blitz. The latest fixtures, updates from the Nigerian camp and new stories will be provided by Julia Stuart, Crystal Arnold, Lucas Radebe alongside former Russian league stars, Matthew Booth and Stanton Fredericks.
Also on Saturdays at 9am on SuperSport 3, Mozez Praiz will host FanFest, the show that gives fans the voice. Subscribers can also look forward to a 360-degree breakdown of the on-field action on Master Plan, a show that focuses on strategic and tactical analysis. It has former Northern Ireland World Cup player, Andy Townsend, in the driving seat.
The broadcast experience is completed by Insights, which is set against the backdrop of different destinations. It is hosted by former Manchester United star, Phil Neville. The show will feature in-depth chats with ex-footballers and focus on tactics, injuries and goals.
SuperSport will also deliver the first-ever live-streamed soccer show on Facebook. Called On The Ball, the fan-focused show will tap into the drama of the FIFA World Cup and look at the lighter side of the game.