Sampaoli admits Argentina couldn’t handle magical Mbappé

Coach hints at staying in job for rebuilding job after exit to France

France’s midfielder Paul Pogba heads the ball with Argentina defenders Nicolas Otamendi and Nicolas Tagliafico during the World Cup round of 16 match at the Kazan Arena. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli acknowledged that his side simply couldn't cope with the pace of the French counter-attacking in this afternoon's first game of the World Cup's second round in Kazan.

The South Americans went out of the competition after two second-half goals by Kylian Mbappé put Les Bleus on course for a win that earns them a quarter-final meeting with either Uruguay of the team that beat them in the European Championship decider two years ago, Portugal.

"We knew that they would break quickly when we lost the ball, they did it and we suffered," said Sampaoli who was asked straight off if whether he would sticking around after what was described as the country's worst World Cup performance since 2002, when they went out in the first round.

The difference this time, it was pointed out, was that the team now possesses the best player in the world, although there was no disguising the fact that if Lionel Messi was even second best on the day, it was by quite a distance.


“Mbappé was difficult to control for us,” said the 58-year-old. “We talked about every single thing that could happen beforehand. But football is about more than just watching a video. On the pitch things can look a little different.

“When you are to meet a player like Kylian or Leo of course you make a plan to control them, but if they have a day like Mbappé did today then it’s very difficult to make the plan work.

“In our team we had the best player in the world but we had to create the collective moments that would allow us to get the best out of him. We worked very hard to allow him to do what he likes to do and sometimes it worked; maybe at other times the team could have done things differently but that’s the way it is. We have to accept it.

“The players fought right until the end, though, and they nearly equalised. So I want to thank them. They tried very hard.

“What I think we need to do now is analyse truthfully, truthfully, what has happened, then decide what we will do. I am convinced that Argentina has very good players; very, very good young players and we need to work with them in order to make the team great again.”

That sounded like the standard suggestion by a coach in trouble that he might be given the opportunity to oversee the introduction of a new generation. The former Chile boss only took the job last year and did initially well enough to sort out the qualifying campaign. But the chaos of the group stage performances here and the failure to get more, a lot more, out of Messi, now 31, may well mean wholesale changes all round.

Didier Deschamps, meanwhile, was looking forward to a rather brighter short-term future with the France manager having at least matched the performance of two years ago when his side ultimately went out in the last eight to Germany.

Here, he acknowledged that the Argentines had enjoyed a lot of possession but, he observed, “it didn’t lead to much. They passed the ball between our four defenders without creating any real difficulties for us.

“They should have found open spaces in the central areas of the pitch. The relationship between [Javier] Mascherano, [Ever] Banega and Messi is important to them and if you want to prevent Messi having influence then it is important to stop the other two players too.

“I think we we coped with the challenge well even if we shouldn’t have conceded the third goal. We did a lot of good things and made a few mistakes. In the next game everybody will have to play at the top level but it is very rewarding to win this game because there were a lot of very experienced players on the other side and we managed them well.”

The coach was asked whether Mbappé’s performance was reminiscent of the sort Ronaldo, the Brazilian, who scored both goals in the final of 2002, often used to produce on the big occasions. “This is a World Cup winner being compared to a 19 year-old,” he said. “Kylian is very young but he’s making progress and we are very happy.”

Pressed on who he would prefer to face in the quarter-finals, Portugal or Uruguay, he laughed. “Come back tomorrow or the next day and ask me,” he said. “We’ve just beaten Argentina.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times