Argentina legend Diego Maradona has defended Lionel Messi after his missed penalty against Iceland in their World Cup opener on Saturday.
The Barcelona superstar endured a difficult opening game at the tournament, failing to convert a spot-kick in his side’s surprising 1-1 draw.
Messi had 11 shots without scoring – setting a new Argentina record for the World Cup – and was dejected at the final whistle.
Maradona, who has been critical of manager Jorge Sampaoli following the draw, believes that Messi should not be coming under fire for his role in the disappointing result.
“I don’t blame the players,” Maradona told Venezuelan television channel Telesur.
“I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had.
11 – Prior to Lionel Messi (11 attempts), the last player to fire more than 10 shots without scoring in a WC game was Gigi Riva in 1974 vs Haiti. Cursed. #ARGISL #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/VfjeKUteyR
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) June 16, 2018
“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”
Maradona, who has previously coached the national team, was scathing in his comments on former Chile and Sevilla head coach Sampaoli.
“If he carries on like this, Sampaoli can’t come back to Argentina,” he said.
“His game plan was a disgrace. Even though the Iceland players average 1.90 metres in height, we played all our corners into the air. We had no short game.
“You can bring 25 brilliant players with you, but you have to work with them. We can see that Iceland was better drilled than Argentina and that is a massive shame.”