Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni says his team are now “on the right path” as they look to cement their place in the World Cup knockouts via their Group C decider against Poland on Wednesday night.
The Copa America champions, one of the favourites for the tournament, suffered a shock 2-1 defeat in last week's opener against Saudi Arabia, but rebounded on Saturday by beating Mexico 2-0. The loss to Saudi represented Argentina’s first defeat in 36 matches.
The two-time world champions now take on Poland to book a spot in the last 16. The Poles currently lead the group on four points, one ahead of Argentina, while Saudi sit third also on three points, and Mexico have one.
On Wednesday, Argentina will be hoping for another crucial contribution from Lionel Messi after the captain opened the scoring against Mexico to relieve the pressure on the world’s No 3-ranked side.
On Tuesday, Scaloni said: “Obviously after a victory against Mexico, we are feeling better emotionally. We are on the right path now.
“Have we recovered our identity after the [Messi] goal? It depends on how you see it, because then we had to defend the result, whatever it took. That’s football. It’s tough.
“We had a couple of chances after the goal to get a bigger result; at the end of the match we managed to do that, and that’s what counts.
“That’s our identity – we fight for every single ball and try to be strong. That’s what we asked our players ahead of the match, and that really reassured us – that’s what we saw on the pitch. Yes, the first half wasn’t great, but we saw our players fighting.”
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If they are to secure a second successive win, Argentina will most likely have to keep quiet Poland captain Robert Lewandowski. The Barcelona striker, rated one of the best strikers in the game, got his first World Cup goal in the 2-0 victory against Saudi on Saturday.
Asked on Tuesday if he regarded Lewandowski as being on the same level as Messi, Scaloni said: “He’s a top player. It’s a privilege and a pleasure to see him from up close, as a football fan. He’s a great player.
“The question is a bit tricky – is he at the same level of Messi? You just have to enjoy watching such a good player. Why compare one player with the other one? It’s not helpful.”
Scaloni's opposite number, Czeslaw Michniewicz, said only that Messi and Lewandowski were “fabulous” players, adding that the match should not be distilled to simply the two captains.
“It’s not tennis, Michniewicz said. “It’s not one-on-one”.
On how he would try to prevent Messi from affecting the game, Michniewicz compared the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner to Italian Olympic champion skier Alberto Tomba.
“It’s a great question, how to stop Lionel Messi,” the Poland manager said. “I think all the world has been thinking about it for years, and I don’t think we’re ever going to find out the final answer.
“Today at the briefing we said that Messi behaves on the pitch like Alberto Tomba on the slope. He is able to avoid everyone like Tomba, get around everyone.
“So I need to put our players to make it difficult for Messi, because if he is able to ride through easily, he will score easily. We need to do it with teamwork.”
Should Poland qualify, they will become the first team from their country to make the last 16 in 36 years.
“We should all be excited to play Argentina, that we play for something, it’s high stakes,” Michniewicz said. “We will do everything to win because we can do it.”