BUENOS AIRES Argentina (Xinhua) --
Argentina forward Lionel Messi turned 31 on
Sunday as his embattled national team prepared for its next
match at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
captain Leo Messi,” the team posted to its Twitter account,
along with three photos of the talisman blowing out candles on
three birthday cakes.
It seemed like a
low-key affair well-suited to the guarded mood of the team,
whose match against Nigeria on Tuesday will be decisive.
To advance to the
knockout stage, Argentina have to beat the African team and hope
Iceland don’t defeat Croatia in the other remaining Group D
There have been
rumors of strained relations between the players and the
coaching staff, despite assertions to the contrary by midfielder
Javier Mascherano, who plays his club football for Chinese Super
League outfit Hebei China Fortune.
At a press
conference on Sunday, Mascherano said the relationship with head
coach Jorge Sampaoli “is completely normal.”
Sampaoli has come
under fire since his side lost their second group game of the
tournament to Croatia 3-0, following a lackluster first game
against Iceland in which they drew 1-1.
Argentinian media, the coach and players have been at odds over
Sampaoli’s constant changes in strategy and personnel.
The Albiceleste, who
finished runners-up in the 2014 World Cup, are facing the
possibility of being eliminated in the group stage, as they were
at the 2002 tournament under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa.
Nigeria’s Mikel to play against Argentina despite fracture
YESSENTUKI Russia (Xinhua) --
Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel is likely
to play in his team’s decisive World Cup Group D match against
Argentina on Tuesday despite nursing a broken bone in his left
Tianjin TEDA midfielder suffered the injury during stoppage time
in the African team’s 2-0 win over Iceland on Friday.
captain has a fracture but I think he will be able to play with
a splint,” Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr said in a video published
by the Nigerian football federation on Sunday. “Our medical team
is looking after it.”
progress to the round of 16 if they win Tuesday’s match in Saint
Petersburg. A draw will also see them advance if Croatia beat
For their part,
Argentina must win and hope that Iceland do not defeat Croatia
by a margin that leaves the Nordic team with a superior goal
Mascherano: No rift between Argentina players and coach
By sportswriter Michael Place BRONNITSY
Russia (Xinhua) -- Midfielder Javier
Mascherano has denied reports of a rift between Argentina’s
players and coach Jorge Sampaoli as the two-time world champions
struggle to avoid early elimination from the World Cup in
The Albiceleste drew
1-1 with Iceland in their first game before crumbling to a 3-0
loss to Croatia on Thursday. To advance to the round of 16, the
South American side must win their final group match against
Nigeria in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday and hope that Iceland do
not beat Croatia by a margin that leaves the Nordic team with a
superior goal difference.
with the coach is totally normal,” Mascherano told a press
conference at the team’s training base on Sunday. “When we see a
problem, we raise it, we are not hypocrites.”
According to media
reports in Argentina, senior Albiceleste players have expressed
concerns to Argentine Football Association officials about
Sampaoli’s team selection and tactics.
After the match
against Croatia, forward Sergio Aguero told reporters that “he [Sampaoli]
can say what he wants” after being told of the coach’s criticism
of the players.
“The best coaches in
the world also ask the players for their opinion, because the
player is the one who ends up making the decisions,” Mascherano
said. “The coach gives you the tools, but you decide which is
the best option [on the pitch], and for that to occur you have
to be comfortable.”
that five-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi, who struggled to
make an impact against Croatia and missed a penalty against
Iceland, was “fine”.
And he said the team
benefited from a clear-the-air meeting between players and
coaching staff following the loss to Croatia.
“We are the current
vice champions [runners up at the last World Cup] and at some
point we have to show that. I think we’ll do that by putting
things right, playing as a team and saying what we think. We can
hide our feelings. We need certainty that the eleven that go out
onto the pitch have a clear idea.”
defender Lovren: We could rest players against Iceland
By Paul Giblin MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua)
-- Croatia defender Dejan Lovren had
potentially bad news for Argentina when he spoke to the press on
performances which have provoked widespread criticism, Argentina
still have a lifeline in the 2018 World Cup finals and will
qualify for the last 16 if Leo Messi and company can win their
final Group D match against Nigeria and Croatia, who are already
assured a place in the last 16, avoid defeat to Iceland in the
other Group D match.
Speaking at the
Croatia training camp outside of St Petersburg, Lovren made it
clear that Croatia won’t be thinking about Argentina when they
face Iceland and if they have to rest key players that is what
going to happen.
“I can really
understand Argentina’s worries and why they want us to play the
strongest team for the next game,” said the central defender.
“But we must also
have think about the fact that we should not be playing the
players who have yellow cards. That’s also our concern we need
to keep in mind,” he commented.
There will be an
amnesty for yellow cards after the quarter-finals in Russia, but
not before and with key players such as strikers Mario Mandzukic
and Ante Rebic both booked in the first two matches, along with
right back Sime Vrsaljko and influential midfielder, Ivan
Rakitic, Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic is unlikely to risk them
picking up a further card which could see them miss out in the
knockout rounds, while others such as 32-year-old Luka Modric,
who scored such an impressive goal against Argentina, could also
“The head coach is
the one who will make the final decision. All of our players are
ready,” said Lovren.