Nizhniy Novgorod, Jun 22 (AFP) Jorge Sampaoli begged for forgiveness from Argentina’s fans after a 3-0 drubbing by Croatia left Lionel Messi’s World Cup dreams hanging by a thread.
Second-half goals from Ante Rebic — the first from a horrendous error by Argentina goalkeeper Willy Caballero — Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic sealed a deserved victory for the European side and ensured their passage into the last 16.
A contrite Sampaoli said the rout was his fault entirely and apologised to supporters left in tears in the Nizhny Novgorod stadium on the banks of the River Volga.
“First and foremost, I would beg for their forgiveness, especially those who came great distances to see Argentina,” said the softly spoken Sampaoli.
“I am responsible for this result but I was as dreamy-eyed as the fans.”
The Group D defeat means Argentina, one of the pre-tournament favourites and defeated finalists in 2014, are on the brink of a humiliating first-round exit.
They have just one point from two games and will certainly have to beat Nigeria in their final outing to have any chance of avoiding elimination.
But for Argentina — and Messi — the recriminations over such a poor performance began within seconds of the final whistle.
“I had to devise a plan for this match,” said Sampaoli. “If I had set things up differently, things might have turned out much better. I don’t think it’s realistic to put the burden on Caballero.”
He added that his under-pressure team, knowing they needed a positive result from the game, crumbled after conceding the first goal.