BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Lionel Messi’s faltering Argentina team will reach the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia despite their precarious position in the qualifiers, sacked coach Edgardo Bauza said on Tuesday.
The Argentine FA, under newly elected president Claudio Tapia, sacked Bauza on Monday after he picked up 11 points in his eight matches in charge.
Local media reports suggest Sevilla’s Jorge Sampaoli is being lined up to take over.
“We got some results that were good and others not so and Argentina are now in a position that I think they will qualify for the World Cup,” Bauza told a news conference in which neither he nor Tapia took questions from the floor.
“There are four big matches to go,” the 59-year-old added at his official exit, referring to the remaining qualifiers later this year.
When Bauza was appointed by Tapia’s predecessor last August, the team were third in the 10-nation group, among the four automatic qualifying berths, and he said at the time: “I see Argentina as world champions”.
Stigmatized by that comment and criticized for failing to put his imprint on the team, he leaves Argentina in fifth place — a spot that would only be good enough for a two-leg playoff against a team from Oceania at the end of the campaign.
Bauza praised the players, who have become the butt of media criticism for their poor performances, especially when deprived of Messi through injury.
“Many don’t value the sacrifice they make, a generation who despite having lost a final or two have always given their utmost,” said Bauza, whose two Copa Libertadores victories had earned him the job.
Tapia hopes to secure the services of Sampaoli, who made a name at international level by steering Chile to their first Copa America title in 2015 when they beat Argentina in the final on penalties.
Sampaoli is one of three top Argentine coaches working in Europe who were seen as candidates, including Diego Simeone of Atletico Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur’s Mauricio Pochettino.
The 57-year-old Sampaoli appears to be the most readily available but whoever takes over is likely to have to do without Messi for the next three qualifiers as he serves out a ban for insulting a match official.
Additional reporting by Luis Ampuero; Editing by Nick Mulvenney