MOSCOW (Reuters) - 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.
Despite an abundance of individual talent, Argentina have looked anything but impressive during Sampaoli’s year in charge and their 1-1 draw against the World Cup debutants, including a missed Lionel Messi penalty, was another frustrating afternoon.
“The sensation is one of a certain frustration after we had such high hopes at the start,” said the shaven-headed coach who led Chile to the last 16 at the World Cup in Brazil four years ago.
“It was an uncomfortable match because Iceland were playing very defensively, blocking all spaces.”
Sampaoli said that Argentina started slowly and wasted too much time passing the ball around innocuously in midfield — although he may have played a part in that by fielding two defensive players, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia, in front of the defence.
“In the first 20 minutes, we didn’t move the ball around quickly enough to worry our opponents and they had a lot of people in the penalty area,” he said.
“We were very slow on the ball and we didn’t use our numbers on the left side of the pitch.
“Maybe we needed to be more creative in the first half - perhaps we needed some more through balls from midfield such as the one which led to the penalty.”
The draw left Argentina in an uncomfortable position in Group D with matches against Croatia and Nigeria still to come.
“The major problem is that we didn’t win and get the three points we wanted,” said Sampaoli. We will learn from what happened and we have to have the strength to win the next game.”
Sampaoli also explained why he chose Willy Caballero in goal ahead of Franco Armani - and denied it was simply because the Chelsea player, who looked shaky throughout, was better with the ball at his feet.
“When you choose a goalkeeper, it’s all about his capabilities and how well he interacts with his team mates — we didn’t chose Caballero simply because of his ability with his feet,” he said.
Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Pritha Sarkar