The 1978 and 1986 champions could fail to make it out of their group in Russia having picked up just one point from their opening two games following Thursday night’s defeat against the Croatians, who have progressed to the last 16.
Once again Messi, who had a penalty saved in the draw with Iceland last weekend, was largely anonymous in a tournament where his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo is leading the way to be top scorer.
Sampaoli was asked about comparisons between the two in his post-match press conference and conceded that Messi’s performances are being hindered by those around him.
“I think that because of the reality of the Argentine squad, it sort of clouds Leo’s brilliance,” he said.
“Leo is limited because the team doesn’t gel ideally with him as it should. As coaches we need to realise these things and try to deal with them. I’m the one that needs to accept it.”
Croatia had been handed the lead by Caballero’s blunder as he chipped straight to Rebic to emphatically fire in.
Sampaoli had decided to choose Chelsea’s second-choice stopper between the sticks once Manchester United’s Sergio Romero had been ruled out through injury, and the Argentina boss refused to lay the blame at Caballero’s door.
“The key to our defeat relates to my responsibility because I’m the coach,” he stressed.
“I had to devise a plan for this match. Had I set things up differently, things might have turned out much better. I don’t think it’s realistic to put the burden on Caballero.”
Argentina face Nigeria in their last group game but know even a victory may not be enough to see them through.
Sampaoli was asked if he felt ashamed and embarrassed by his nation’s heaviest World Cup group stage loss since 1958.
“I definitely feel pain,” he replied.
“As a coach it’s been a long time since I’ve gone through this experience and obviously it’s much more painful when I’m wearing the jersey of my country.
“Our plan for this match didn’t work out. We have to put everything we have in the last opportunity we have to fight, give it our all.
“We have no other alternative. There’s pain because we weren’t at the level the Argentina people expected of us.”
Argentina looked tactically lost at times, with Croatia continually getting joy down both flanks in the first half before boss Zlatko Dalic’s ploy to press higher up the field paid dividends with Caballero’s mistake.
“We knew that the last three of Argentina were a bit weaker and they would break down under pressing,” Dalic revealed.
“The players did everything they were told. We had very good scouts analysing Argentina. We knew that they would play 3-4-3 and we adapted to that.”
Kylian Mbappe is no stranger to football fans the world-over.
On Thursday night, the 19-year-old netted the winner as France edged Peru 1-0 to seal their passage out of Group C and into the knockout stages of the tournament.
In doing so, Mbappe became Les Bleus’ youngest-ever World Cup goalscorer and the 12th youngest in the history of football’s showpiece event.
The teenager started to the right of central striker Olivier Giroud and took a while to settle while he got used to his duties on the flank, but often made room to move inside.
Once he did though get accustomed to proceedings, we started to see the best of Mbappe.
Alongside Giroud and Antoine Griezmann, who was operating in a deep-lying attacking position behind the main frontman, the trio began to combine to good effect.
As Mbappe’s stats illustrate, he was heavily involved during the final third, particularly in the first 45 minutes, and displayed predatory instincts and a goalscoring hunch to follow up Giroud’s saved shot and score.
CLINICAL ON THE BIG STAGE: The former Monaco man’s rise to superstardom has been rapid over the past 18 months and we should not forget how easy he has made the transition to international football look.
Starting from the right isn’t his most natural position but Mbappe has made the best of it, and on this evidence, is growing into the tournament.
RAN OUT OF STEAM: Mbappe departed on 74 minutes after Deschamps introduced Ousmane Dembele. He definitely tired in the second period as Peru enjoyed more territorial pressure and France’s onus was on defending, rather than attacking.
As such, he started to lose his way and seemed a bit out of sync in what his defensive duties entailed.
Goalscoring display should kick-start his and Les Bleus’ tournament as the pre-tournament hosts for many seem to be hitting their stride at a crucial juncture.
RATING – 7/10
Croatia booked their spot in the World Cup knockout stages and all-but ended Argentina’s hopes after sealing a 2-0 Group D victory on Thursday night.
Ante Rebic scored a sumptuous second-half volley, capitlizing on Willy Caballero’s horrendous mis-kick.
Skipper Luka Modric then struck a 25-yard piledriver into the back of the net after 80 minutes before Ivan Rakitic wrapped-up a famous triumph by almost walking the ball in.
Lionel Messi struggled to gain a foothold in the match and Argentina now need a miracle with one more match to play against Nigeria.
Here, we rate the performance of Zlatko Dalic’s men.
Danijel Subasic – 6: Would have expected a busier evening at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium but was rarely tested by limp Argentine attack.
Sime Vrsaljko – 6: Right-back was combative and never short of energy or aggression when launching himself into tackles.
Dejan Lovren – 6: A lapse or two could have cost him dear with Sergio Aguero ready to pounce but Liverpool centre-back grew into towering presence.
Domagoj Vida – 7: The Besiktas star was the leader of the back line and had a heavy influence on proceedings.
Ivan Strinic – 6: Left-back was organised and handled everything that came his way.
Ivan Rakitic – 9: Superb block to deny Messi in 64th minute in Argentine hero’s only goalscoring opportunity. All action display from Blaugrana ace, capped off with a fine goal.
Marcelo Brozovic – 6: Did a lot of unselfish running and often got tight to Messi to shackle their star player.
Ante Rebic – 8: Very fortunate to escape horror first-half challenge on Eduardo Salvio but then popped up with superb winner following horrendous Willy Caballero mistake.
Luka Modric – 9: Scintillating pass to release Rebic at backend of first-half. Croatia captain was coolest head in heated midfield battle and wonder goal was icing on the cake.
Mario Mandzukic – 5: Experienced striker was not at his clinical best and missed free header to open the scoring in the first-half.
Mateo Kovacic – 5: Little to no time to make an impact but would have enjoyed being part of closing stages.
Vedran Corluka – 5: Came on in injury-time.