Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni yesterday applauded his team’s feisty performance against Netherlands in the quarter-finals, saying the current squad captained by Lionel Messi ‘always knows what to do’.
Two-time champions Argentina on Saturday night battled a resilient Netherlands side to reach the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
Leading 2-0 with just seven minutes to go in regulation time at Lusail Stadium, Netherlands fought back with two stunning late goals from Wout Weghorst before Argentina went on to win the penalty shootout in dramatic fashion.
Aregntina, the 1978 and 1986 World Cup winners, will take on Croatia on Tuesday for a place in the final.
“I think this team displays aspects that are required by the game in each moment,” Scaloni said yesterday. “The spirit of every moment is to know what we want and I think that’s what the team has, that it knows what to do at all times,” the Argentine coach explained.
“They continued to show that face in a complicated, very difficult match (against Netherlands),” Scaloni said.
“When you think it’s all over, it’s not over.
“This team has what it takes, they have the desire, the youth, the pride and they never give up on any situation,” he added.
“Argentina’s players have a spirit that guides them to cope with the toughest circumstances.
“It is true that the last 10-12 minutes were the most difficult where I was planning to make some substitutions to try to win it sooner,” Scaloni recalled.
“Given the situation in which they were in, I chose to stay as we were and in the end these are decisions you have to make. It didn’t work out well because we got a draw but I don’t think they deserved to draw,” he added.
Coach Scaloni, who guided Argentina to Copa America glory last year, said he wants Argentina to go for the title in Qatar.
“It is a goal to play all seven games, but we would like to continue dancing and take the next step,” Scaloni said. “It’ll be a good match against Croatia and we hope to be up to the task.”
Scaloni said Argentina, who were leading 2-0 with 83 minutes in the match gone, should have wrapped up a comfortable victory on Friday night.
“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think we deserved to reach the penalty shootout. Yet, my team kept on fighting back in a very difficult match. The opponent offered a very strange game, particularly in the second half,” Scaloni said.
“We had everything under control, but that’s football. In this beautiful sport, even if you think you’ve sealed a game, you may get surprised. Again, I believe my team has the means, willingness, freshness and pride to face anything. Those are the key ingredients to not giving up on a game,” he said.
“Luckily, the game ended well and that’s it,” Scaloni said.
The Argentine coach said it was a tough decision to bring Angel Di Maria late in the match.
“In the first half of extra time, we had the chance to bring Di Maria on as he was going to be a smart addition. But we also knew he was not in his best physical condition,” Scaloni said.
“Sometimes one has to make decisions in the most difficult moments. I also had to think about the kick-takers for the penalty shootout.
“I needed to bring on players with good shooting skills. In such moments, many things go through your mind. But attack is always the main thing to think about,” he said.
Scaloni said Netherlands seemed pleased with 2-2 stalemate and did not attempt to score in the extra time.
“As I said, in the second half, they started to send long balls to their forwards. They didn’t have any other option to find our net. We were pretty confident the dynamics of extra time would change if we played our football. That’s what we saw: we created chances, they stopped sending long balls, as they were already satisfied with the score.
“That’s something we saw clearly during extra time. But we didn’t manage to score the winner in those 30 extra minutes. I said that the game was in our favour, despite that unfortunate last-minute goal from them,” Scaloni explained.
“I think our style is always the same and sometimes our opponents play well and we need to be prepared, just like during the first half when the Netherlands managed the ball (well). But this is football, you may have great players, but our game plan was clear to us and we executed it,” he said.
When asked about Messi’s confrontation with the Dutch bench, Scaloni said: “There was a lot of talk before the game about an image of Leo going to complain to the Dutch coach. I guess that’s what the match was for too, a quarter-final. These are things that happen on the field and stay there. But we didn’t play with one less when we had the ball today. We played with 11. I think Leo was a bit touched and showed that he is the best player of all time. So, we are glad to have him.”
We always know what to do, says Argentine coach
‘This team has what it takes, they have the desire, the youth, the pride and they never give up on any situation’
Captain Lionel Messi and coach Lionel Scaloni celebrate as Argentina progress to the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. (Reutrers)