Sampaoli: We have to be aggressive in final third
Argentina coach wants country to get behind team in must-win game against Venezuela
Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli has urged the entire country to back the national team as La Albiceleste host Venezuela in a crucial World Cup qualifier tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
The traditional football powerhouses are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory as South America's 2018 World Cup qualifying race enters the home stretch.
A faltering campaign has left Argentina fifth in the standings with three games remaining, just outside the top four spots which guarantee automatic entry to next year's Finals in Russia.
It would still take a dramatic sequence of results for the unthinkable - a World Cup without Argentina and Lionel Messi - to become reality.
Even if Sampaoli's side fail to lock up automatic qualification and ended up in fifth place, they would still be favourites to qualify via a two-leg play-off against a team from Oceania, almost certain to be New Zealand.
But the 57-year-old Sampaoli is viewing the clash with Venezuela as a must-win affair.
He said: "I hope that the next game will not be decided by only 11 players, but by 40 million Argentinians. We absolutely need to win against Venezuela.
"We needed to win, because of the situation we are in, in the league standings, because we are now excluded from the qualification to the final phase of 2018 Russia.
"We faced a difficult opponent (against Uruguay last week), who has blocked us from all possibilities.
"I am very confident because I see the group eager to change the current situation.
"From now on, we just have to think about qualifying and we have to think about how to do it."
The gloom that has enveloped the Argentina squad throughout the qualifiers means that little is being taken for granted ahead of tomorrow morning's game at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires.
Last Thursday's 0-0 draw with Uruguay in Montevideo left Argentina level on 23 points with fourth-placed Chile, who lead on goal difference.
Sampaoli is expected to persist with the bulk of the team who started against Uruguay, with Messi leading a potent front three that features Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi.
Javier Mascherano could return for the suspended Gabriel Mercado, while Ever Banega may replace Guido Pizarro.
Argentina were frustrated by a Uruguayan side which defended in depth and packed the midfield.
With Venezuela likely to use similar tactics, Sampaoli has urged his team to take a more aggressive stance.
He said: "We have to be more aggressive in the last third and get more people in the area.
"We have to ensure that the team win. We have to win so that Argentina can be at the World Cup in Russia."
- WIRE SERVICES
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