Ahead of their Group D clash against Croatia on Thursday, Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli urged fans not to blame Lionel Messi whenever the team fails to win.

Messi missed a crucial second half penalty that would have given his side the lead over Iceland in their group opener Saturday as the game eventually finished 1-1. Despite the penalty miss, the Barcelona man was a constant throughout the game but was unable to break through a resolute Iceland defense after recording 11 shots during the 90 minutes.

He would later describe the miss as "painful" and took responsibility for it, but criticism toward him only grew following the game as the pressure to perform is even greater now especially considering how the World Cup is going for Cristiano Ronaldo, who in contrast, boasts four goals in two games.

In addition, with Messi yet to have international glory with the senior team, many feel this is the 30-year-old's last chance of winning a trophy with Argentina after three consecutive years of finals heartbreak from 2014 to 2016. But Sampaoli came to the defense of his star player, stating a bad result does not mean Messi is at fault and he already has a lot of pressure on him.

"When you score with the Argentina jersey, we all take credit for it. But when Argentina loses, it’s all Leo’s fault," Sampaoli said, as per Independent. "I think that’s quite unfair treatment. It’s a lot of pressure for a single player to stand. I have to say I feel responsible for that missed penalty. Messi can't be the only guilty one. I think that’s too easy a way for Argentinians to think."

Lionel Messi Lionel Messi will be looking to bounce back against Croatia. Pictured, Messi of Argentina arrives prior a training session at Stadium of Syroyezhkin sports school in Bronnitsy, Russia, June 19, 2018. Photo: Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images

La Albiceleste face arguably the toughest task in their group in Croatia and while Sampaoli expects a tough game and for Messi to be man-marked, he hopes Argentina can learn from their previous game and exploit the European side.

"When he [Messi] has two or three opponents trying to block him, somewhere on the pitch a teammate is free, as happened against Iceland," Sampaoli explained. "We need to take advantage of that."

"It’s going to be difficult. Croatia have a generation of outstanding players who have just won. There were lots of factors of irritation for not winning against Iceland. There are 40 of us at this World Cup. The team will be together when things go well and when things go badly."

Meanwhile, Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic offered his support to Messi by calling him the best player in the world, but warned Argentina that with his side already having three points, they will be going for the win.

"Messi is the best in the world and no single player can stop him," Dalic said at a news conference. "Our game can stop him. We have to cut him off from passes. But Argentina are not just Messi. They have plenty of good players and we shouldn't fall into this trap of focusing just on Messi."

"We're playing one of the best in the world, we have a great deal of respect for them but we also respect ourselves. It's going to be a great challenge, but we have to believe in ourselves and show our true colors. It's the easiest game for us because we have nothing to lose. It's going to be a match that could go either way. The pressure on us is less because we've got three points in the bag but if we play for a draw, we won't get it. If we play for a win, we might get a result."