Rio Ferdinand has highlighted the crucial leadership role Lionel Messi played in dragging under-fire Argentina into the knockout rounds of the World Cup – but he’s not talking about his performance in the 2-1 win over Nigeria.
The former England defender singled out the impact of Messi’s talk to his team-mates in the tunnel prior to emerging for the second half in Saint Petersburg.
And after Messi was snapped giving the half-time team talk, Ferdinand explained why such a gesture was vital for Argentina.
“We saw the pictures before of Messi in the tunnel talking to the team,” Ferdinand said as an analyst for the BBC.
“When the great Lionel Messi is speaking to them team-mates, they have to listen, they have to come together. Without that unity, you can’t achieve anything.”
Messi put La Albiceleste in the lead at the Krestovsky Stadium in the opening 45 minutes, but Victor Moses’ penalty just after the break made it 1-1.
And the South Americans were under par in the second period, but clinched a last 16 berth as Marcos Rojo’s 86th-minute goal claimed a dramatic 2-1 win against the Super Eagles.
As Messi was trying to inspire his team-mates during the interval, Argentina’s under-fire head coach Jorge Sampaoli sat in the dugout.
Sampaoli emerged from the dressing room long before his players, who instead gathered around Messi.
The Argentina coach has been under immense pressure after a dreadful opening to the tournament, but former Argentina international Pablo Zabaleta insisted it was now time for the side to come together as one unit.
“He [Sampaoli] made a few mistakes in the last two games, he knows that,” Zabaleta, the 58-times capped Argentine international, said.
“He took some responsibility for that. He was brave. Hopefully we saw another 90 minutes in the next game of that Argentina. It’s time for unity. In those moments you need that, players, staff – everybody together.”