Five Argentine managers entered the World Cup last week in what appeared to be a demonstration of the vast quality of coaching in the nation but each one of them has had a disastrous tournament and three are already preparing to pack their bags. Saudi Arabia’s Juan Antonio Pizzi’s reputation was on the line from the opening game when his side were hammered 5-0 by Russia and his early exit was confirmed by a 1-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday which also saw Hector Cuper’s Egypt eliminated after also losing both of their Group A games.
Ricardo Gareca, who had led Peru to their first World Cup since 1982, swiftly joined his compatriots in being sent home early when his side were beaten by France 1-0 on Thursday. Three hours later, Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli was put on the brink of a catastrophic elimination by his side’s 3-0 surrender to Croatia.
The two-times winners and 2014 runners-up could still yet avoid their earliest exit from the tournament since 2002 but their fate, and Lionel Messi’s future in what is likely to be the last World Cup at his peak, is no longer in their own hands. Jose Pekerman could still lead Colombia out of their group, with fixtures against Poland and Senegal to come, although his side got off to a nightmare start by losing 2-1 to Japan after defender Carlos Sanchez was sent off in the third minute.
Pekerman is still revered in Colombia for the team’s inspired run to the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals and Gareca’s reputation will not be tarnished either by his side’s exit from a difficult group. The future of Cuper is more uncertain as Egypt underachieved after so much promise although they were hamstrung by the untimely shoulder injury to talisman Mohamed Salah.
But when it comes to a damaged reputation, no-one can rival the tattered image of Sampaoli, who was helpless to come up with solutions when Iceland put up a blockade to draw 1-1 in the first game and then watched his side implode against Croatia. Argentina great Diego Maradona led the rebellion against Sampaoli after the draw with Iceland, the smallest nation ever to compete at a World Cup, saying: “Playing like this, Sampaoli cannot ever go back to Argentina, his tactics were a disgrace.”
The anger within the Argentina camp after the debacle against Croatia could be seen when Sergio Aguero, who was hauled off early in the second half, was asked about Sampaoli’s comments that “some players did not adapt”. “Let Sampaoli say whatever he wants,” said the striker, visibly annoyed.
Sampaoli looked morose after Argentina’s heaviest defeat in a World Cup group stage since 1958 and appeared resigned to his side’s fate. “I say sorry to all the fans who made such an effort to come to Russia,” he said. “I shared their dream. I did the best I could.”