FIFA World Cup 2018: Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano insists that relations are not strained between coach and players

Russia: Veteran Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano insists relations between the players and coach Jorge Sampaoli are not strained after reports of unrest within the team camp.

Jorge Sampaoli has come under criticism for his tactics in Argentina's loss to Croatia. AFP

Jorge Sampaoli has come under criticism for his tactics in Argentina's loss to Croatia. AFP

Sampaoli was roundly criticised for his game plan following a 3-0 loss to Croatia in Argentina's second group game at the World Cup, sparking rumours the 58-year-old would be sacked during the tournament.

"The relationship with the coach is completely normal," Mascherano said ahead of the must-win match against Nigeria in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday, before affirming that "obviously, when we feel uncomfortable about something we speak with him because if we didn't we would be hypocrites."

Argentina were on the brink of elimination after the Croatia mauling but victory against Nigeria would send them through as runners-up in Group D if leaders Croatia avoid defeat against Iceland. "We know the situation is tricky," Mascherano said, adding, "We have to be united, to express our opinions, and do everything possible so the team goes into the game in the best position."

The Argentine Football Association (AFA) president Claudio Tapia has given his backing to Sampaoli after holding a meeting with the embattled coach on Friday, a team source revealed. Franco Armani is tipped to replace Willy Caballero for the Nigeria clash after the Chelsea goalkeeper's blunder against Croatia. Sampaoli is also expected to ditch his three-match defence and return to a traditional back four.

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Updated Date: Jun 24, 2018 19:52 PM

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