Lionel Scaloni plays down World Cup pressure on Argentina as they prepare for UAE friendly

Manager insists Copa America champions not concerned by favourites tag ahead of Qatar finals

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Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni has played down the pressure on his in-form side heading into the Fifa World Cup.

The Copa America champions, currently unbeaten in 35 matches, are considered by many as favourites for the tournament in Qatar, which kicks-off on Sunday.

Argentina, who won the most recent of their two global titles in 1986, take on the UAE in a friendly in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday before flying to Doha.

Speaking at a press conference at Al Nahyan Stadium – the match takes place at Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium – Scaloni said: “We don't have pressure because in the end this is football, we're going to play a football World Cup.

“We're conscious what football represents for Argentina, but it's sport and that's why we have to step on the pitch and do our own thing. We have to come out and play the way we know how to. And then there are a lot of unknowns.”

Scaloni, a former Argentina international who last year led his country to a first major trophy in almost three decades, was asked about the similarities with the 2002 World Cup, when Argentina exited at the group stage after coming into the tournament with great expectations.

“Despite the disappointment of losing, the people still recognised the team was one of the best and they didn't deserve to get knocked out of the World Cup,” Scaloni said.

“But football is like this and if we believe that we will win just by decree then that would be a mistake. That has happened, not only with Argentina, but with other teams.

“We're going to try to give our best and try to get as far as we can.”

Scaloni – who, at 44, is the youngest manager at the Qatar tournament – lamented the loss of injured star Giovani Lo Celso but said he was confident Roma forward Paulo Dybala would be fit following a hamstring injury.

Argentina have been drawn in Group C alongside Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland. They open their campaign on November 22 against the Gulf side.

“We know Saudi Arabia well,” Scaloni said. “We watched them a few days ago against Panama. It's a very good team, a technically strong team with fast players, similar to the UAE.

“They will make things difficult for us. On top of that it is our first game of the World Cup, which is always difficult. But this is the World Cup, and every game is difficult.”

Updated: November 16, 2022, 3:41 AM