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Argentina’s will to fight key to glory, says coach

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All smiles: Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria during training

All smiles: Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria during training

All smiles: Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria during training

Argentina head coach Jorge Sampaoli has “complete faith” in the ability of his side to get past France and reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

The South Americans looked in real danger of crashing out at the group stage before a dramatic victory over Nigeria saw them through to the last 16 as runners-up behind Croatia.

Group C winners France await in Kazan today, and under-pressure Sampaoli maintains his players will be ready.

“We have complete faith in our abilities. Argentina is very strong psychologically and this will allow us to face the match with complete commitment.

“You will see a team which will have a lot of motivation to win,” Sampaoli said.

Sampaoli has found himself under the spotlight following the opening 1-1 draw against Iceland and a 3-0 defeat by Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod.

The Argentina coach, though, insists the squad is united.

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“We are talking about training a good set of professionals. We need to know how to overcome the challenging moments which always emerge,” he said.

“Regardless of what happens, we need to keep fighting.”

Sampaoli moved to clarify what happened on the touchline during the Nigeria game, where video footage appeared to show the manager asking Messi whether Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero should be sent on.

Sampaoli maintained: “We looked at different options in an important game and had to make a decision.

“I was simply communicating this, saying that we were going to use one of the strategies we had rehearsed to use more attacking players.”

Messi produced a fine finish to put Argentina ahead against Nigeria.

Sampaoli feels his country have the “best player on earth”, but also others who can rise to the challenge.

“Leo is committed to the team, first and foremost you see this on the pitch,” he said.

“It is difficult to be at such a great level, he is really a shining light for us all, bearing in mind his capacities, we have to try play as close to his level as we can.”

Sampaoli added: “I’m sure France have their own plan to neutralise Leo, but we have our own plan to make his life easier.”

Just as France know the threat of Messi, Sampaoli is fully aware of the dangers of an in-form France — led by Paris St Germain teenager Kylian Mbappe.

“What is most worrisome about France beyond their youth is the skill of some of their players,” he said.

“We want to control the game throughout, if we don’t I’m sure it will become a very physical game, which will not suit us at all.”

France have a number of options to limit Lionel Messi’s influence in their round of 16 clash against Argentina, but they are also resigned that he could turn the match in an instant, coach Didier Deschamps said yesterday.

Messi has yet to light up the World Cup in a stuttering Argentina side but his clinical strike in the 2-1 win over Nigeria underlined the danger the Barcelona forward will present Deschamp’s side at the Kazan Arena today.

“Messi is Messi, look at his statistics, 65 goals in 127 matches,” Deschamps told reporters at the stadium.

It’s straightforward, hopefully we would like to neutralise him but we know very well he can make the difference with very little.

“When you play Argentina and Messi on the pitch there are several solutions to limit his impact.”


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