World Cup 2018: Argentina 'cloud Lionel Messi's brilliance', says coach Jorge Sampaoli
Lionel Messi could not guide his side to victory because "the reality of the Argentina squad clouds his brilliance" - according to coach Jorge Sampaoli.
The coach faced a grilling from the Argentine media after Messi could do little to prevent Croatia from thumping his side 3-0.
"Leo is limited because the team doesn't gel ideally with him as it should," said Sampaoli.
"I would beg fans for their forgiveness. I am responsible."
Sampaoli was criticised in his news conference for picking goalkeeper Willy Caballero, substituting Sergio Aguero and changing his starting formation to 3-4-3.
'40m hold you responsible'
Caballero's terrible mistake allowed Ante Rebic to open the scoring after a poor first half. Sampaoli's side never looked like recovering, with the former Chile coach admitting that his team were "emotionally broken".
The opening question from the media stated that "40m Argentines hold you responsible for selecting Caballero", with one reporter saying to the manager "let's talk about shame and embarrassment" and another asking: "Why can't you get your players to pass the ball to Lionel Messi?"
Argentina are not out of the World Cup yet - they could yet qualify with victory over Nigeria in their final group game next - but on and off the pitch they look in trouble.
"I am just as dreamy-eyed as any fan and I am very hurt," said Sampaoli.
"Messi is our captain, he leads the team and we quite simply couldn't pass to him to help him generate the situations he is used to. We worked to give him the ball but the opponent also worked hard to prevent him from getting the ball. We lost that battle.
"Some of the players didn't manage to play with my system, I probably didn't set up my team in the right way."
Messi is Argentina's record scorer but has had 12 shots in Russia without a goal, and has now gone six World Cup matches without finding the net.
Sampaoli also defended Chelsea goalkeeper Caballero, who only made his debut earlier this year at the age of 36 and is starting because Manchester United's Sergio Romero injured his knee.
"I am the one who needs to make the final decision," he said.
"The key to our defeat related to my responsibility because I am the coach. Had I set things out differently, things may have turned out better. I don't think it is right to put the burden on Caballero.
I don't know about shame, but I definitely feel pain. It's been a long time as a coach since I've been through this experience and it's much more painful when I'm wearing the jersey of my country.
"[In the last match] we have to fight, give it our all, and we really have no other alternative. There's pain because we weren't at the level that the Argentine people expect of us."