Football: Argentina have eyes only for Jorge Sampaoli to take over hot seat

Sevilla's Argentinian coach Jorge Sampaoli (left) gestures beside Sevilla's Brazilian defender Mariano during the Spanish league football match Sevilla FC vs Real Sporting de Gijon at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Sevilla on April 2, 2017. PHO
Sevilla's Argentinian coach Jorge Sampaoli (left) gestures beside Sevilla's Brazilian defender Mariano during the Spanish league football match Sevilla FC vs Real Sporting de Gijon at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Sevilla on April 2, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BUENOS AIRES (REUTERS) - The Argentinian Football Association (AFA) have identified Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli as their choice to take charge of the national team, and revitalise their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, AFA President Claudio Tapia said on Thursday.

Argentina, runners-up to Germany at the 2014 World Cup, are fifth in South American qualifying with four matches to go.

Only the top four - currently Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and Chile - go through automatically while the fifth-placed team has to go through an intercontinental play-off with a side from the Oceania confederation for a berth in Russia 2018.

Tapia, who sacked coach Edgardo Bauza after his election to the AFA chair last month, told ESPN that Sampaoli was their man.

"Today I can confirm that Sampaoli is the only candidate," he said, adding that the AFA would negotiate with Sevilla for Sampaoli's release from his contract once the LaLiga season in Spain concludes next month.

Sampaoli joined the Sevilla on a two-year contract last June.

Tapia's comments confirm weeks of speculation about the appointment of Sampaoli, who led Chile to the Copa America title in 2015.

Argentina, who are a point behind Uruguay and Chile, face a tough away trip to Montevideo, Uruguay for their next qualifier on Aug 31, and must play without captain Lionel Messi, who has been suspended four games for insulting a match official.

Messi, who has already missed a 2-0 defeat away to Bolivia, is also due to miss home games against Venezuela and Peru, but could return earlier if an appeal is successful.

Failing that, he would return to face Ecuador in the final group game.

Argentina also have friendlies lined up against Brazil in Melbourne, and Singapore on a June tour to prepare for the qualifiers.