Fielding Messi would have been 'risky' for Argentina: Sampaoli

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli. Photo:EFE/Wallace Woon

It appears that there was never any intention for Argentina to field Lionel Messi in the international friendly against Singapore.

At a press conference on Monday evening (12 June) ahead of the Singapore-Argentina match, coach Jorge Sampaoli implied that Messi and Gonzalo Higuaín had logged a lot of time on the pitch and would need the rest.

When asked by the Singapore media on the reasons why Messi and Higuain were released from the squad, Sampaoli replied via translator, “Basically, they were carrying over a lot of games, so it’s a wise decision to let them go for this game.”

“It would have been very risky for Argentina,” he said. To date, Messi would have played over 50 games during the season.

Initially named in Argentina’s squad for the friendlies against Brazil in Melbourne, Australia, and Singapore, news broke from the Argentinian media on Thursday (8 June) that Messi would skip the Singapore match to return home and prepare for his wedding on 30 June.

While the Barcelona superstar was spotted arriving in Singapore with the rest of the team, a statement released Saturday by organisers UNICESS confirmed that Messi, along with Juventus’ Higuain and Manchester City’s Nicolas Otamendi, would miss the game “due to personal reasons”.

Messi left Singapore after a five-hour layover on Saturday night.

The decision to release Messi did not go down well with Singaporean fans, some of whom have asked for refunds for their tickets.

Even without Messi, the odds are stacked against Singapore – placed 157th in the FIFA rankings – when they play a team ranked second in the world.

Singapore coach V. Sundramoorthy agreed that it was a disappointment to not have Messi in the game, because he is a player who can “fill the stadium”.

“I also would love to see him play, but it’s unfortunate because he’s not coming,” said Sundram.

Sundram admitted his team has to be “cautious because (Argentina) are a world class team”.

“We are playing against a strong team, we will approach it tactically,” Sundram explained. Sundram fielded only four questions lasting all of a minute before leaving to continue training with the Singapore team. The Singapore head coach explained that the team was training while he was speaking to the media and he wanted to return to them.

However, Sampaoli believes that the result of the game is not a foregone conclusion.

“I disagree with the statement that we will win for sure,” said Sampaoli.

“I’m expecting to have a team in front that’s taking advantage of the opportunity to really play against Argentina, and that they will build on that.”

One thing is for sure – Sampaoli intends to use a variety of offensive-minded players, and wants Argentina to take the game seriously even though it is a friendly. He said, “We have many offensive players and we will have to see how they play with the defensive part of the team. With the opportunity we have, it’s important to see the enthusiasm of the players to recover the ball as soon as we lose it.”

Meanwhile Messi made no mention of his stopover in Singapore, but posted a photo on Instagram on Monday of himself and his bride-to-be Antonella Rocuzzo on holiday in Ibiza with the caption, “Holidays!!!! Nothing cuter than you … I love you.”

Media reports said Messi, together with Cesc Fabregas, Luis Suarez and their families are spending the off-season holidaying together on the Spanish island.

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Messi to skip Singapore friendly