Football: Jorge Sampaoli takes charge of Argentina until 2022, seeks best Lionel Messi

Jorge Sampaoli, newly appointed coach of Argentina’s national soccer team, speaks during a news conference after his official presentation at the squad's camp in Buenos Aires, Argentina,  on June 1, 2017.
Jorge Sampaoli, newly appointed coach of Argentina’s national soccer team, speaks during a news conference after his official presentation at the squad's camp in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on June 1, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli said his greatest challenge was to get the best out of Lionel Messi and reach next year's World Cup finals in Russia as he was officially unveiled on Thursday (June 1) with a contract through to the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

Sampaoli, identified as Argentina's choice in April but tied to Spanish club Sevilla until the end of the LaLiga season 11 days ago, said his first contact with captain Messi was positive.

"I spoke with Leo yesterday and we are both excited about this project. It's a boost for us to see how excited he is with this new stage (for Argentina)," he told reporters.

The 57-year-old, who is fulfilling a long-time dream of coaching his national team, said he had signed a deal with the Argentine FA (AFA) until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

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"The liaison will go through to the 2022 World Cup. Let's hope we can generate something important for Argentine football," said Sampaoli, who leaves for Australia with his squad for a two-match friendly tour on Friday.

He will make his debut in charge of Argentina against their arch-rivals Brazil in Melbourne on June 9 before his side move on to face Singapore in another friendly on June 13.

Sampaoli's long-term deal should bring some stability after nearly two years of turmoil at the AFA. Gerardo Martino quit as national team manager last July over the AFA's poor organisation and six months of salary arrears with Edgardo Bauza employed as a stop-gap manager.

Sampaoli replaced the sacked Bauza to ensure Argentina's form improves and they reach the 2018 World Cup. But their hopes are on a knife edge in the 10-nation South American group from which the top four qualify for Russia.

Bauza was sacked in April with Argentina in fifth place in the qualifying group, which would put them in an intercontinental playoff against a team from Oceania.

There are four rounds of matches to go with Argentina on 22 points from 14 matches, behind already-qualified leaders Brazil (33), Colombia (24), Uruguay and Chile (both 23).

Argentina face Uruguay next in Montevideo on Aug 31. Then they have home matches against Venezuela and Peru and finish with a visit to Ecuador, who are sixth with 20 points.