Beleaguered Albiceleste's final shot at salvation | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 26, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 07:57 AM, June 26, 2018

Beleaguered Albiceleste's final shot at salvation

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: (From L-R) With his outrageous decision-making leading Argentina to the brink of elimination, Jorge Sampaoli has found himself friendless and almost losing his job ahead of his side's do-or-die clash against Nigeria today. Also in the spotlight was River Plate goalkeeper Franco Armani, who is expected to don the gloves in place of calamitous Willy Caballero. However, the man who will be expecting to finally come good and shine on the biggest stage is Lionel Messi. It's now or never for Messi and the 'Golden Generation of Argentine football'. PHOTOS: AFP

Held by Iceland and humiliated by Croatia, Argentina's World Cup could already have been all but over, but Lionel Messi and the rest of Jorge Sampaoli's troubled squad have one final shot at redemption against Nigeria on Tuesday.

Victory against the Africans will secure qualification for the last 16 as long as Iceland don't shock already-qualified Croatia.

Even if Iceland claim a first ever World Cup victory, Argentina could still progress on goal difference.

However, bouncing back will take a huge improvement in performance and strength of character so far unseen from the two-time world champions in Russia.

Messi led Argentina to the World Cup final four years ago and consecutive Copa America finals in the following two years, but all three ended in defeat.

Without the five-time World Player of the Year, though, it is highly unlikely Argentina would even have qualified.

Messi salvaged a disastrous campaign under three different managers with a hat-trick away to Ecuador in the Albiceleste's final qualifier.

In their hour of need, Argentina need Messi's best once more.

"Leo is fine," insisted veteran midfielder Javier Mascherano, who knows Messi better than most having spent eight years as his club team-mate at Barcelona.

"He is a human being who has his frustrations because things haven't worked out, but so are we all.

"Like it or not, we are the runners-up from the World Cup and we have to show it."

So far in Russia, Messi has been held scoreless. He missed a penalty among 11 unsuccessful shots on goal in a 1-1 draw with Iceland before failing to make any meaningful impact in an error-strewn Argentine display against Croatia.

"It is the most critical situation I have experienced, along with the Ecuador game," said Argentina midfielder Lucas Biglia on Sunday. "But sometimes you have to cling to something."

Argentina are clinging to the hope their captain bails them out again.

Leave your comments