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Argentina's Javier Mascherano denies rift between players and coach Jorge Sampaoli

Jorge Sampaoli has come in for severe criticism
Image: Jorge Sampaoli has come in for severe criticism following the 3-0 defeat to Croatia on Thursday

Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano insists relations between the players and coach Jorge Sampaoli are not strained after reports of unrest within the team camp.

Sampaoli was roundly criticised for his game plan following a 3-0 loss to Croatia in Argentina's second group game at the World Cup, sparking rumours the 58-year-old would be sacked during the tournament.

"The relationship with the coach is completely normal," Mascherano said ahead of the must-win match against Nigeria in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.

"Obviously, when we feel uncomfortable about something we speak with him because if we didn't we would be hypocrites."

Argentina's Javier Mascherano (R) leads teammates in a training session at the team's base camp in Bronnitsy on Sunday
Image: Argentina's Javier Mascherano (R) leads team-mates in a training session at the team's base camp in Bronnitsy on Sunday

Argentina were on the brink of elimination after the Croatia mauling but victory against Nigeria would send them through as runners-up in Group D if leaders Croatia avoid defeat against Iceland.

"We know the situation is tricky," Mascherano said. "We have to be united, to express our opinions, and do everything possible so the team goes into the game in the best position."

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Argentinian TV hosts held a minute's silence after their 3-0 Croatia defeat at World Cup.

Argentine Football Association (AFA) president Claudio Tapia has given his backing to Sampaoli after holding a meeting with the embattled coach on Friday.

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Franco Armani is tipped to replace Willy Caballero for the Nigeria clash after the Chelsea goalkeeper's blunder against Croatia, with Sampaoli also expected to ditch his three-man defence and return to a traditional back four.

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