Football

New Argentina coach Sampaoli wants to get best out of Messi

Jorge Sampaoli realised his lifelong dream to lead his country's national team, after he was officially unveiled as Argentina coach yesterday morning (Singapore time).

He said his greatest challenge is to get the best out of Lionel Messi and reach next year's World Cup Finals in Russia.

Telling reporters that his first contact with Argentina captain Messi was positive, the 57-year-old said: "I spoke with Leo yesterday and we are both excited about this project.

"It's a boost for us to see how excited he is with this new stage (for Argentina)."

Sampaoli was identified as Argentina's choice in April but was tied to Sevilla until the La Liga season ended 11 days ago.

He replaced the sacked Edgardo Bauza and is now tasked to ensure Argentina reach the 2018 World Cup.

His deal, which runs through to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, should bring some stability after nearly two years of turmoil at the Argentine FA (AFA).

Gerardo Martino quit as national coach last July over the AFA's poor organisation and six months of salary arrears, with Bauza employed as a stop-gap manager.

Sampaoli took fourth-placed Sevilla to their highest finish in La Liga since 2010 in his only season in European football after a long career in South America.

He was coach of Chile from 2012 to 2016, during which he led the side to the 2015 Copa America title - via a penalty shoot-out win over Argentina in the final.

Argentina's hopes of a spot at Russia 2018 are on a knife edge in the 10-nation South American group, from which the top four qualify.

Argentina are placed fifth, which would put them in an intercontinental play-off against an Oceania team.

There are four rounds of matches to go, with Argentina on 22 points from 14 matches, behind already-qualified leaders Brazil (33), Colombia (24), Uruguay and Chile (both 23).

Said Sampaoli: "The South American qualifiers are very complicated.

"There are some very good teams trying to do the same thing as us."

Argentina play Uruguay in Montevideo at the end of August. Then they have home games with Venezuela and Peru and finish with a visit to Ecuador, who are sixth on 20 points.

Sampaoli will make his debut in charge of Argentina against arch-rivals Brazil in Melbourne on June 9, before they play Singapore in another friendly on June 13.

"Playing a World Cup is complicated," said the Argentinian, whose Chile team reached the second round before losing to hosts Brazil at the 2014 World Cup Finals.

"It's a tournament that has to find you consolidated.

"I dream of building a strong squad." - REUTERS

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