Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni was asked if he was surprised by the Socceroos’ upset victory over world No.10 Denmark that earned them a dream shot at his team in Qatar.
”Are you Australian?,” he smiled back. “Were you also surprised with this win?”
The response suggested that, like the rest of the world, Scaloni probably didn’t expect his team would be gearing up for a clash against the Socceroos with a place in the quarter-finals on the line – but he still offered up a diplomatic answer.
“I wasn’t surprised honestly because they are a good national team,” he told a packed press conference in Doha.
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“They had a good qualifying campaign, they were fourth in the qualifying campaign and then you were able to qualify for this World Cup in the repechage (playoffs).
“They are a good national team, they have tradition in World Cups and that makes them difficult . . we don’t need to be overly confident, we need to try and play our best football and then we’ll see what happens.”
Scaloni was also eager to make his respect for Australia clear when asked how Argentina would handle the pressure of facing “inferior” opposition.
“The opponent, whether they are inferior or not, we’ll need to see that. I don’t fully agree – they are a good team and this is football. It is 11 vs 11, this is the reality so we need to leave aside the favourites and we need to play the game.”
Pressed earlier on Australia’s specific strengths, and the players he thought could post the biggest threat, Scaloni suggested the likes of Craig Goodwin and Mathew Leckie had made an impression.
“Yes they have good players in the right wing, the forwards, the midfielders with wide experience,” Scaloni said.
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“They are playing in high levels and especially they are a team. That’s what I can say and when you are facing a team it is always difficult and by team I mean, a national team with players who know what they want and that is always difficult.”
Australia could receive a significant boost with Angel di Maria, arguably Argentina’s second biggest star behind Lionel Messi, under an injury cloud and likely to start on the bench according to local reports.
Asked about the Juventus midfielder’s chances of playing, Scaloni took the opportunity to raise the fixture quirk that means Australia will have four more hours to prepare for the match despite finishing second in their group.
”Let’s wait for today and wait for tomorrow, the last day,” he said.
“Even though it might seem absurd, Australia played at 6pm in second and we played at 10pm in first.
“We went to bed at 4am and that has an impact, especially if you have a game in 48 hours.
“So yesterday it was all about recovery and being with the family and today is when we will have a clear picture on Di Maria… we hope he will be fine and will be able to play but I can’t tell you at the moment because we dont have a clear picture.”