Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni defended his players from accusations of misconduct in their fractious World Cup quarter-final against the Netherlands, insisting on Monday that the game was played in the “right way”.
The South American team have recovered from a shock defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia in their opening group game in Qatar to reach the last four.
But the two-time champions were heavily criticised following their bad-tempered last-eight clash with the Netherlands last week.
Scaloni’s side threw away a two-goal lead against the Dutch at Lusail Stadium but eventually triumphed 4-3 in a penalty shoot-out.
However, the game featured a World Cup record 18 yellow cards and multiple mass confrontations, and FIFA has since opened disciplinary proceedings against both sides.
Argentina will be without Gonzalo Montiel and Marcos Acuna due to suspension against 2018 finalists Croatia as a result, but Scaloni, speaking on the eve of the semi-final, stood up for his men.
“The game the other day was played in the right way by both teams. That is football,” said the 44-year-old, who led Argentina to victory at last year’s Copa America.
“There are times when you have to attack and times when you have to defend, times too when there might be arguments.
“We all know how to win and how to lose. When we lost to Saudi Arabia we left without saying anything, and when we won the Copa America in Brazil I think we saw one of the most beautiful images of good sportsmanship in football with Neymar and Messi and (Leandro) Paredes together on the steps at the Maracana.
“I don’t buy this idea that we don’t know how to win. The game was played in the right way.”
Scaloni was non-committal over the future of Lionel Messi but said he would “enjoy having him” while he was still playing.
Messi, 35, admitted before the tournament that this would probably his last World Cup.
Scaloni, whose own short international career briefly crossed paths with that of Messi’s, has expressed hope that the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner will continue to play international football.
“Let’s see if he keeps playing or not but for the moment we are just going to enjoy having him,” he said. “It’s the best thing that could happen to us and to the football world.”
Scaloni, who was an assistant to Jorge Sampaoli at the 2018 World Cup, when Argentina lost 3-0 to Croatia in the group stage, also suggested that both Rodrigo De Paul and Angel Di Maria should be fit for Tuesday’s game after injury problems.
“In theory they are available and so we are relaxed about that,” he said. “We need to see how many minutes they can play, but we will see later today and we also have time tomorrow to decide.”
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