The Argentina legend has been critical of the current team, but the manager remains unperturbed looking ahead to Russia 2018

Argentina head coach Jorge Sampaoli is optimistic the 2014 runners-up can make an impact at next year’s World Cup in Russia as he dismissed criticism from Diego Maradona.

Maradona played down Argentina’s prospects after Sampaoli’s men were drawn in Group D with Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria in Moscow on Friday, insisting the two-time world champions must improve having scraped through CONMEBOL qualifying.

Argentine great Maradona has been critical of Sampaoli since his appointment in June but the former Sevilla boss remains unperturbed.

“It does not bother me. We also feel this way,” Sampaoli told Omnisport.

“I hope that as the time passes we will be able to have the chance to improve.”

Sampaoli, with five-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi at his disposal, added: “I think we will grow, that we will have the chance to get rid of the load that we had in the qualifiers. Argentina will be very strong in the World Cup. I hope we can pass in our group, and show what sets us apart.”

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Argentina will open their World Cup campaign against tournament debutants Iceland in Moscow on June 16, before facing Croatia five days later and Nigeria on June 26.

“I already know where we will play, the days, the places, the trips, the rivals and their characteristics,” Sampaoli continued.

“But that is what we are facing, and we have to know that Argentina has the best player in the world and has a chance to move to the second phase.”

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