Sampaoli: Iceland tactics make it difficult to evaluate Messi’s game

AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan

Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli stood by his superstar after Lionel Messi missed a penalty in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Iceland at the World Cup.

[ RECAP: Argentina 1-1 Iceland ]

“To evaluate and characterise Lionel Messi’s work is difficult because it was an uncomfortable match for him,” Sampaoli said. “Iceland played very defensively, blocking all spaces but we did everything we could to win. Leo is very committed to Argentina.”

Messi’s international game is constantly under a microscope in his home nation, which has seen him lead the club to two Copa America Finals and the 2014 World Cup Final.

The missed penalty is going to be etched in many minds, but the Argentine wizard got off and set up numerous chances including the ball sent to Sergio Aguero that earned the penalty kick. He was also marked by two, three, and four players whenever Argentina found him with the ball.

[ MORE: Halldorsson on stopping Messi PK ]

Iceland manager Heimir Hallgrimsson made no apologies for his side’s defense-first mentality.

“We are bluntly honest about our ability. We know how we can win football matches. It is just a fact that Argentina have superior individuals with superior skills and if we go one-on-one with them you don’t need to ask who will win the game. We have to play in a special way and we have a clear identity.”

They did just that.