Jorge Sampaoli has praised Lionel Messi for being a “fantastic player” with an “amazing” human side who is “happy when Argentina wins”.

The 31-year-old has come under criticism at the 2018 World Cup for his lukewarm performances in an Albiceleste side which came within minutes of crashing out of the tournament.

In Tuesday’s Group D meeting with Nigeria, Messi opened the scoring for Argentina but Victor Moses ‘s equaliser from the penalty spot had the two-time World Cup winners on the brink of elimination.

However, Marcos Rojo scored an emphatic volley with just four minutes left in Saint Petersburg to seal a 2-1 win and nudge the South Americans into the last 16, where they will face France.

“When Leo hugged me I was very proud and happy,” Sampaoli told reporters. “I’m passionate every single day. I have been able to travel and share many moments with him. He knows me well and we have a common dream.

“Every time Lionel Messi plays he shows that he is a fantastic player, above everybody else, but he needs support from his teammates. Only then will he play at his best, like he did most of the time today.

“His human side is amazing. He cries and suffers, he is happy when Argentina wins. It’s important he shares those feelings. Many people say Leo does not enjoy playing for Argentina, but I don’t agree.”

Messi has won a plethora of trophies with Barcelona but his only titles with Argentina remain the 2005 Under-20s World Cup and the 2008 Olympic gold medal in men’s football.

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