Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli defends Lionel Messi after penalty miss

Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli defended star player Lionel Messi after he missed a penalty in their 1-1 draw with Iceland.

Messi’s spot-kick, saved by Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson, summed up his team’s afternoon against the tournament’s least-populated country.

Although Argentina took an early lead through Sergio Aguero, Alfred Finnbogason equalised for Iceland and the World Cup debutants stood firm against everything thrown their way – including Messi’s second-half penalty.

“It was an awkward game because Iceland played in their own half, blocking Messi’s outlets,” Sampaoli said.

“He kept looking and he wanted Argentina to win, whatever the analysis of any performance says. I am happy because I know that Leo’s commitment to getting us into the next round is still there.”

Argentina’s road to qualification was dogged by an inability to break teams down and that continued in Moscow as they fired in 27 shots but only seven on target.

Sampaoli named an attacking line-up, with Aguero flanked by Angel Di Maria and Maximiliano Meza and Messi in a free role. But it proved insufficient against a side whose national population is dwarfed by that of Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires.

“We tried to work better and create more opportunities, but what can you do? We’re just starting. We will learn from this experience,” Sampaoli explained.

“Beyond the goal scored against us, I don’t think our transitions were fast enough and we should have hurt our opponent more. In the second half we made them feel uncomfortable but they did have many people playing defensively.

“We need to find more alternatives to our style of play – alternatives that can hurt our opponent. Croatia is not the same as Nigeria or Iceland. The next game will be different and we must understand what strategy works best. This is going to be a tough group.”