Argentina begins new era under coach Sampaoli
BUENOS AIRES: Jorge Sampaoli has taken over as Argentina coach and faces the challenge of bringing out the best in superstar Lionel Messi for his national team and restoring the confidence of fans.
"It is a dream that I cherished for ages. This is a position I always admired — It generates a lot of dreams and passion," the 57-year-old Sampaoli told a press conference Thursday.
Sampaoli, dressed in Argentina colors, said his mission is "to build a team that respects the history of Argentinian football" and bring fans back.
He is Argentina's third coach during the current edition of the World Cup qualifiers in South America, after Gerardo Martino and Edgardo Bauza. Argentina is currently fifth in qualifying — only the top four get direct spots at Russia 2018.
Sampaoli, who left Spanish club Sevilla to take the national job, will get his first game in charge against Brazil in a friendly on June 9 in Melbourne, Australia.
Most players in the squad have been involved in three consecutive narrow defeats in finals: World Cup 2014, Copa America 2015 and Copa America Centenario 2016. But Sampaoli knows his biggest challenge lies with Messi delivering good performances for the national team.
"We want the most genuine and pleasant version of the best player in the world, we want him happy here," Sampaoli said, adding that he'd spoken with Messi in recent days.
Argentina will play Uruguay on Aug. 31 in its next World Cup qualifying match. After that, there will be only three games to secure a spot in Russia.
"The difficulty in the qualifiers is real: Argentina is not qualified, but we know we have the resources for that," he said.
Sampaoli only became famous at home when he took Chile to its first major trophy by beating Argentina on penalties in the 2015 Copa America final.