FIFA World Cup 2018: Messi on a mission as Argentina train with renewed hope
BRONNITSY (Agencies): Lionel Messi and Argentina hit the training ground on Saturday with renewed hope of qualifying for the World Cup last 16.
Argentina were on the brink of elimination after a humiliating 3-0 loss to Croatia, but Nigeria’s 2-0 win over Iceland on Friday offered the two-time world champions a lifeline.
Victory over Nigeria in their final Group D match in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday would send Argentina through as runners-up if group leaders Croatia avoid defeat against Iceland.
Gabriel Mercado, Nicolas Otamendi and midfielder Lucas Biglia trained separately from the rest of the squad in the gym as they recover from minor knocks.
Defensive pair Mercado and Otamendi suffered ankle injuries in the loss to Croatia but are expected to be fit to face Nigeria. Coach Jorge Sampaoli was roundly criticised for his approach against Croatia, sparking rumours the 58-year-old would be sacked during the tournament.
It had been suggested that 1986 World Cup winner Jorge Burruchaga, the team’s technical director, would replace Sampaoli, but the claims were strongly denied by the Argentina Football Association (AFA).
Messi was kept quiet as Argentina suffered their heaviest first round group stage defeat since 1958, but the Barcelona forward could yet have his say at what is likely his fourth and final World Cup. Goalkeeper Willy Caballero could be dropped following his mistake for the opening goal against Croatia, with River Plate’s Franco Armani possibly in line to make his international debut.