'Genius' Messi can lead Argentina to World Cup glory, insists coach Sampaoli

'Genius' Messi can lead Argentina to World Cup glory, insists coach Sampaoli

The minnows are ranked 22nd in the world but few expected Heimir Hallgrimsson's side to tame two-times former champions Argentina in their debut World Cup outing.

Messi, the five-time Federation Internationale de Football Association player of the year, has struggled from the spot in some crucial moments.

Messi's missed penalty brought back memories of the shocking miss during the 2016 Copa America final - one that cost Argentina the chance to lift the title. The underdog story continued through World Cup qualifying, with Iceland becoming the smallest country ever to make the tournament.

But the Icelanders revel in their underdog status and showed at Euro 2016 they will not be cowed on the big stage. I think we have a clear identity.

"I did a lot of homework", Iceland 'keeper Halldorsson said after stoning Messi's second-half attempt.

Argentina were too ponderous in midfield and lacked creativity, coach Jorge Sampaoli said in a blunt assessment of their failure to beat Iceland in their opening World Cup match on Saturday. "We tried to find spaces in Iceland's defence but he couldn't find them", Messi told reporters in the mixed zone following the match with Iceland.

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He ripped off his captain's armband at full-time and offered little more than a blank stare as Iceland's players acknowledged his presence. "It will be a very tight game in which we'll also have to control our nerves".

Luka Modric will be the one pulling the strings and even if the Nigerians play quite defensively, the Real Madrid man has the guile to make something happen.

Two years on, "Les Bleus" arrive in Russian Federation with high hopes of young players such as Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele and buttressed by more experienced stars such as Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, who announced this week he is staying at Atletico Madrid.

Sergio Aguero put Argentina ahead, only for Alfred Finnbogason to quickly level matters midway through the first half.

Now this is probably unfair given how it is harder to win global tournaments now compared to years gone by, but Messi will once again have incredible pressure on his shoulders for that very reason.

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