BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli said his greatest challenge was to get the best out of Lionel Messi and reach next year’s World Cup finals in Russia as he was officially unveiled on Thursday with a contract through to the 2022 tournament in Qatar.
Sampaoli, identified as Argentina’s choice in April but tied to Spanish club Sevilla until the end of the Liga season 11 days ago, said his first contact with captain Messi was positive.
“I spoke with Leo yesterday and we are both excited about this project. It’s a boost for us to see how excited he is with this new stage (for Argentina),” Sampaoli told reporters.
The 57-year-old, who is fulfilling a long-time dream of coaching his national team, said he had signed a deal with the AFA until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
“The liaison will go through to the 2022 World Cup. Let’s hope we can generate something important for Argentine football,” said Sampaoli, who leaves for Australia with his squad for a two-match friendly tour on Friday.
Sampaoli’s long-term deal should bring some stability after nearly two years of turmoil at the Argentine FA (AFA).
Gerardo Martino quit as national team manager last July over the AFA’s poor organisation and six months of salary arrears with Edgardo Bauza employed as a stop-gap manager.
Sampaoli took fourth-placed Sevilla to their highest finish in La Liga since 2010 during his only season in European soccer after a long career in South America.
He is thrilled to have 29-year-old Barcelona forward Messi on his team having faced him in the 2015 Copa America final when his Chile side upset Argentina on penalties.
Sampaoli replaced the sacked Bauza to ensure Argentina’s form improves and they reach the 2018 World Cup.
But their hopes are on a knife edge in the 10-nation South American group from which the top four qualify for Russia.
Bauza was sacked in April with Argentina in fifth place in the qualifying group, which would put them in an intercontinental playoff against a team from Oceania.
There are four rounds of matches to go with Argentina on 22 points from 14 matches, behind already-qualified leaders Brazil (33), Colombia (24), Uruguay and Chile (both 23).
“The South American qualifiers are very complicated. There are some very good teams trying to do the same thing as us,” added Sampaoli.
Argentina face Uruguay next in Montevideo on Aug. 31. Then they have home matches against Venezuela and Peru and finish with a visit to Ecuador, who are sixth with 20 points.
Sampaoli will make his debut in charge of Argentina against their arch-rivals Brazil in Melbourne on June 9 before his side move on to face Singapore in another friendly on June 13.
“Playing a World Cup is complicated,” said Sampaoli, whose Chile team reached the second round before losing to hosts Brazil at the 2014 finals.
“It’s a tournament that has to find you consolidated. I dream of building a strong squad.”
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Writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Ken Ferris