FIFA World Cup 2018: Shock and anger over Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli’s tactics

Having set the team up in his preferred three-man backline, as opposed to the four defenders used in their opener, Sampaoli played some players out of position in defense

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli came under the scanner from Sergio Aguero and the Argentine media after their 3-0 loss to Croatia here on Thursday. Having set the team up in his preferred three-man backline, as opposed to the four defenders used in their opener, Sampaoli played some players out of position in defense.

Fullbacks Gabriel Mercado and Nicolas Tagliafico accompanied Nicolas Otamendi as central defenders while wide midfielders Eduardo Salvio and Marcos Acuna were slotted in as wing-backs. Javier Mascherano, Enzo Perez, and Maximiliano Meza were overshadowed in midfield by the Croatia trio of Marcelo Brozovic, Luka Modric, and Ivan Rakitic.

That made Sampaoli’s decision to keep Ever Banega on the bench seem ever more mysterious and produced a performance that was in complete contrast to the high-tempo game he had perfected with the Chile national team. Aguero hit out at Sampaoli after the coach claimed at the post-match press conference that the players failed to adapt to his tactics.

“Let him say what he wants,” Aguero told a TV reporter. “I feel anger and sadness, although there is still a chance,” he said. Argentine journalists here too weren’t pleased with the coach.

“Nobody expected this result. It’s a surprise for all of us. He played with his favorite system, with three behind, something that didn’t happen against Iceland. When it became 1-0 to Croatia, maybe it was the time to put Aguero and Higuain up front and not take out Aguero,” said Argentine midfielder Hernan Pablo Losada, a former player with Anderlecht who is an analyst for the Belgian football website Voetbalkrant.

Francisco Javier Ali of Vermouth Deportivo too blamed Sampaoli. “The coach is responsible because he experimented on the field. He played one team against Iceland and today, he played a different side. We saw the team had not done enough work on the coach’s plans. Argentina was flying in the air like a piece of paper,” he said.

“I believe there is a problem within the team because of what Aguero said. If he was in agreement with the coach, he wouldn’t have said what he did,” said Ali. Despite a poor qualifying campaign, Losada said hopes had still been high going into the tournament.

“When you have Lionel Messi in your team and players like Aguero, (Gonzalo) Higuain, (Paulo) Dybala, (Angel), Di Maria, playing in the top teams of the world’s top leagues, of course, you expect a lot more than possibly being eliminated in the group stage. You expect that this generation of players can finally get a prize for this nation. But now, we have to depend on other results.” Losada added that even if Argentina manage to make it past the group stages, Sampaoli’s job is likely to come under threat.

“Today’s performance was so disastrous that many of us think he will be relieved of his duties after the World Cup. We all have the feeling that the connection between the players and the trainer is not perfect. Especially when we go one goal behind, there is no reaction from the players. That’s something very hard to change. In tournaments like the World Cup, team spirit is so important,” he said.