(AFP) – Lionel Messi has challenged Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella to give him a more attacking role when the South Americans face Iran on Saturday seeking a win to seal a place in the World Cup second round.
Messi wants to be part of a three-man attack with Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain as they were in the second half of the 2-1 win over Bosnia to open Group F
It was a rare public questioning of Sabella’s tactics. But the coach insisted he has no problem with team captain Messi speaking out ahead of the Belo Horizonte game.
Higuain came on as a substitute to set up Messi to score just his second ever World Cup goal against Bosnia on Sunday. Messi said he feels more comfortable playing with Higuain and Aguero in attack.
“We are Argentina and I think we need to concentrate on ourselves without fixating on who we are playing,” said the four-time world player of the year.
“We feel more comfortable with two up front and me behind because it makes it easier to counter-attack and, because we have more people in attack, we have more possibilities.”
Messi’s stunning goal eased eased some of the pressure on him to start performing on the world stage. However, his underwhelming first-half performance was still criticised and he admitted he needs to play closer to the opposition’s goal.
“In the first-half I found it difficult to get a hold of the ball and when I did I was very far from goal.
“The truth is when I did have the ball I lost it a number of times and at other times I was playing it backwards. I was annoyed at not being able to play the game I had planned.”
Sabella took Messi’s comments in his stride.
“Messi has said many times that he likes the 4-3-3 system. He didn’t say anything new and he said it respectfully. It doesn’t bother me at all,” Sabella told reporters. “We live in a cordial atmosphere with respect for everyone.”
Along with Higuain, Fernando Gago could return in midfield at the expense of Maxi Rodriguez as he too made a positive impression as a substitute against Bosnia.
Javier Mascherano is also expected to win his 100th cap in midfield and insisted he is as hungry for success as he was on his international debut.
“I am not one of those players that makes the difference on the pitch, but more a player that sacrifices myself for the team. What is my secret? I live for this.”
Iran made an encouraging start to their campaign too, holding African champions Nigeria to a 0-0 draw in Curitiba on Monday.
Coach Carlos Queiroz fiercely defended his side’s tactics in that match given their lack of facilities and poor preparation in comparison to their more opponents in Group F.
Striker Reza Ghoochannejhad believes his side can enjoy the experience of taking on one of the world’s best sides with nothing expected of them.
“We have to enjoy it and follow the coach’s instructions to the letter. We’ve got absolutely nothing to lose in this match,” said the Charlton Athletic striker.
“Argentina are among the favourites this year, while the same can’t be said for us. All the pressure will be on their shoulders and we will have to show our resilience, like against Nigeria.”