BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - The Argentine FA have identified Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli as their choice to take charge of the national team and revitalise their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, AFA President Claudio Tapia said on Thursday.
Argentina, runners-up to Germany at the last World Cup, are fifth in South American qualifying with four matches to go.
Only the top four -- currently Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and Chile -- go through automatically while the fifth-placed team has to go through an intercontinental playoff with a side from the Oceania confederation for a berth in Russia in 2018.
Tapia, who sacked coach Edgardo Bauza after his election to the AFA chair last month, told ESPN that Sampaoli was their man.
“Today I can confirm that Sampaoli is the only candidate,” he said, adding that the AFA would negotiate with Sevilla for Sampaoli’s release from his contract once the league season in Spain concludes next month.
Sampaoli joined the Spanish club on a two year contract last June.
Tapia’s comments confirm weeks of speculation about the appointment of Sampaoli, who led Chile to the Copa America title in 2015.
Argentina, who are a point behind Uruguay and Chile, face a tough away trip to Montevideo for their next qualifier on Aug. 31 and must play without captain Lionel Messi, who has been suspended four games for insulting a match official.
Messi, who has already missed a 2-0 defeat away to Bolivia, is also due to miss home games against Venezuela and Peru but could return earlier if an appeal is successful.
Failing that, he would return to face Ecuador in the final group game.
Argentina also have friendlies lined up against Brazil, in Melbourne, and Singapore on a June tour to prepare for the qualifiers.
Additional reporting by Luis Ampuero, editing by Nick Mulvenney/Peter Rutherford