MOSCOW, Russia - Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli took the surprising decision to reveal his starting line-up for his side's World Cup Group D opener against Iceland in a news conference ahead of Saturday's game, picking Sergio Aguero ahead of Gonzalo Higuain.
Sampaoli, who has a reputation for unorthodox formations, seems to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 shape for the first game for the 2014 runners-up against tournament debutants Iceland, fielding two holding midfielders in Lucas Biglia and veteran Javier Mascherano.
Higuain will be left out in favour of Aguero, who will play in front of talisman Lionel Messi, with Angel Di Maria and Maximiliano Meza on either side of the Barcelona forward. Goalkeeper Willy Caballero has been given the nod, with Nicolas Otamendi and Marcos Rojo named as the two centre backs.
Sampaoli is confident his troubled side will prove themselves and downplayed "genius" Lionel Messi's threats to quit international football. The two-time champions have struggled with poor form and injuries in the lead-up to their Russian campaign. "I am convinced Argentina will show we are one of the best teams in the world," he said.
Sampaoli downplayed the need to make amends for the agonising loss to Germany in the 2014 final, saying he wanted his players to express themselves. "We have to ignore pressure, otherwise we won't be able to perform as we want to," he said. "We want to enjoy every match, we want our opponents to be under pressure."
Star forward and captain Messi is desperate to lift the trophy and has hinted he will quit if the campaign in Russia ends in failure. Sampaoli said he believed the Barcelona player would continue to grace the world stage after Russia.
"He's fit, well prepared and really looking forward to this World Cup and hopes to be able to make history," he said. "I don't think this should be Messi's last World Cup. I think his skills and professionalism mean he can play until he wants to. He's a genius and he plays like a genius. So I don't think it's going to be his last World Cup."
He denied Messi had too much responsibility, saying it was natural to build a team around such a phenomenally talented player. "The coach organises a team to fight but it's the players who create the chances on the pitch," he said. "If you have players like Messi, it's the coach's job to organise the team around them, to take advantage of their amazing skills."
Argentina team to face Iceland: Willy Caballero, Eduardo Salvio, Nicolas Otamendi, Marcos Rojo, Nicolas Tagliafico, Lucas Biglia, Javier Mascherano, Maximiliano Meza, Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria, Sergio Aguero. (Writing by Richard Martin in Rostov-On-Don; Editing by Julien Pretot)