While an inspirational Messi clinched qualification in the dizzying heights of Quito last October, the obvious faultlines were badly exposed in an embarrassing 3-0 loss to Croatia on Thursday that leaves the team on the brink of a World Cup exit.
Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and 2010 winners Spain progressed from Group B in dramatic fashion on Monday, joining host nation Russian Federation and Uruguay in the next round but technology grabbed centre stage. "I love you and I respect you like always", he said via SPORT. "An elbow is a red card in the rules". The talent is all there, but there must be a solid strategy in place and Lionel Messi must perform at the level he is capable of playing at.
Portugal will face two-time winners Uruguay in Sochi on Saturday.
After being held to a draw by Iceland and humiliated by Croatia, Argentina's World Cup could already have been all but over.
Messi, during Argentina's opening game against Iceland, missed an opportunity to put his side 2-1 up.More news: Prince William starts first British royal visit to Israel, Palestinian Territories
Iceland head into their final Group D fixture against familiar foes Croatia needing a win and a slice of luck from the group's other game in order to become the first World Cup debutants since Slovakia (2010) to progress through to the knockout stages. If Nigeria win, Iceland will go out.
Argentina's struggles in Russian Federation come after their pre-tournament preparations were wrecked by controversy and poor form, coupled with a reliance on a top-heavy, limited squad.
"This team has lost the past three finals they have played - the 2014 World Cup, and the Copa America in 2015 and 2016".
Elsewhere, Willy Caballero, thrust into the No. 1 spot after the pre-tournament loss to injury of first-choice goalkeeper Sergio Romero, was so poor against Croatia that the uncapped Franco Armani, who accompanied Sampaoli at the press conference, is expected to make his debut against Nigeria. "Tomorrow will be the first final", said the defiant coach on the eve of the game in Saint Petersburg.
Maradona was Argentina's key player in the tournament and scored two of the most famous goals in football history on the way to the final, seeing off England in the last eight with the "Hand of God" and "Goal of the Century". "I have tried to do my best until now and I haven't found the way to give them what they want".More news: Harley-Davidson Announces Overseas Move, Cites Tariffs
"Messi, who keeps winning for Barcelona, who continues to deliver triumph after triumph for Barcelona, has given us nothing but defeats and sadness", said Miguel Angel Gutierrez, a 50-year-old Argentina supporter in Buenos Aires.
"But, we have to take care because we have some players on yellow cards, so I will change the line-up". "This team is absolutely determined to win the match and advance to the round of 16 and to start a new page in this World Cup".
France haven't been especially convincing in Russian Federation, but they have already booked their place in the next round after beating Australia and Peru.
"If he had the ball less than usual it's because Argentina didn't dominate the match as we did against Iceland". "We can only swallow the poison and see what happens" in the other group matches.More news: New AirPods, Apple noise-cancelling headphones pegged for 2019