Lionel Scaloni speaks with referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz at Lusail Stadium in Qatar on Saturday. Reuters
Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter
Lionel Scaloni credited the spirit of his team for their success after their victory over the Netherlands in the quarter-final match of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 on Friday.
"Argentina's players have a spirit that guides them to cope with the toughest circumstances. Now, as far as I'm concerned, we shouldn't have reached the penalty shootout. Yet, the team kept on fighting back in a very difficult match. The opponent offered a very strange game, particularly in the second half," said Scaloni after the match.
Argentina led 2-0, but a tenacious Netherlands fought back to stage a miraculous comeback and force the game into penalties.
"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 explains. Commenting on the argument with the referee, Scaloni said: "In my opinion, the referee's decisions were shameful. But that's just my opinion. I'm not going to talk about the referee, Mateu [Lahoz]. I know him personally, I even have a great relationship with him, and I want to close that topic. Luckily, the game ended well, and that's it," he added.
Commenting on not bringing De Maria very late in the game, he said De Maria was not in the best shape to play.
"Well, regarding the second half, and during extra time, I mean, 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. 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. So, in such moments, many things go through your mind. But, attack is always the main thing to think about.
He also stressed on playing firebrand-attacking football.
"Despite the fact that they offered a game where they were sending wide balls to their forwards, we always tried to advance towards the opposing goal. The game lacked continuity on the ball, and it became difficult for us in the second half. Despite that, and as the statistics show, we were the team with more shots on target and more chances. We're satisfied with today.
"As I said, in the second half, they started to send long balls to their forwards. They didn't have any other option but 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 was something we saw clearly during extra time," the coach explained.
He also praised the mindset of his players and their mettle for the way they have made a comeback after losing the first match against Saudi.
"How many times have we proved our character in this World Cup? We lost the first game, we had a difficult first half against Mexico, we had a compromising group situation and also stood up to it. I think this team displays aspects that are required by the game at each moment.
"There are times when you have to defend, because the way they were playing, frankly, it's valid to play the way they played in the second half, but it forces you to defend, because you get three 6'4 strikers.
And you have to defend, you just simply can't defend in that situation.
"So, 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.
"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. 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," he revealed.
He also paid tribute to former coach Alejandro Sabella after the match. Sabella passed away two years ago.
"Yesterday we remembered Alejandro, and I hope he is proud of what this team has done, and he surely would be. It is indeed a goal to play all seven games, but now that we are in the game, we have to keep on playing, and we would like to take the next step with all due respect against a great rival like Croatia," he added.
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