'Best in the world' Messi the victim of unfair treatment, says Sampaoli
Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli again lauded Lionel Messi as the best player in the world on Wednesday and suggested the forward has faced "unfair" criticism following his costly failure to convert a penalty in their World Cup opener against Iceland.
Messi saw a second-half spot-kick saved by Hannes Thor Halldorsson as Argentina were held to a surprise 1-1 draw in their opening Group D fixture.
As a result, La Albiceleste are now under additional pressure ahead of Thursday's clash with Croatia, who began their campaign with a routine 2-0 win over Nigeria.
Sampaoli is confident his team are over their initial troubles, though, and insists Messi cannot be held solely responsible for Argentina's fortunes in Russia.
"We were quite upset about not having won. I think we've recovered, though," Sampaoli said in a news conference in Nizhny Novgorod, the venue for the match against Croatia.
"Leo shouldn't shoulder all the responsibility. We're talking about a World Cup that involves millions of people. We can all miss a penalty. We have an entire squad here and we need to bind ourselves together through good and bad.
"Sometimes, football gives you these unpleasant surprises."
Discussing the criticism Messi has faced in recent days, Sampaoli added: "It's what I always say: when you score in the Argentina shirt, we all take credit, but when Argentina lose, it's all Leo's fault. I think that's quite unfair treatment.
"It's a lot of pressure for a single player to bear so I have to say I also feel responsible for missing that penalty and I'll celebrate Leo's goals like any other Argentine.
"He is the best player in the world and clearly it is impossible that a single player changes the situation of a match completely. He can't be held responsible for a defeat."
Many have suggested Messi needs to guide his country to World Cup glory in order to be held in the same esteem as Argentina icon Diego Maradona.
Asked for his opinion on the matter, Sampaoli said: "People like to compare things to define differences that have to do with different generations.
"With Argentina, Leo has only lost five or six matches of the 75 or so he has played so Leo is a pillar of the team, just as Diego was in his day.
"Every Argentinian is free to have the opinion they want."