Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni says his team will “break our backs” to get past Australia on Saturday and book a place in the World Cup quarter-finals.
The South America champions, who topped Group C, take on their Asian Football Confederation counterparts at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium as the last-16 kicks into gear.
On Friday afternoon, the Argentine told reporters the team had yet to even train for Australia, as they attempt to avoid another shock in a World Cup thus far full of upsets.
“Australia, who finished second in the group, played at 6pm [on Wednesday] and we finished first [in our group] but played at 10pm,” Scaloni said. “We went to bed at 4am and that has an impact when you have a game in 48 hours.
“We will break our backs on this pitch to compete. We know how difficult this World Cup is; this is football.
“We saw what happened yesterday [when Japan defeated Spain to eliminate Germany and world No 2 Belgium crashed out] but this is not surprising. When you say big national teams deserve to be in the next stage, that doesn't always happen.”
Scaloni suggested Angel Di Maria would be fit to feature against Australia after the winger was taken off with injury in the 2-0 win against Poland. However, the manager said he still did not have the “complete picture”.
“If you've seen our matches, you know I don't always play the same players,” Scaloni said. “I focus on every single match and adapt the team for the match. Very rarely have I repeated the starting XI.
“What's important is everyone knows what they need to do. We will go match-by-match and won't always play the same team if it isn't necessary.”
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Like Argentina, Australia rebounded from an opening-day defeat to win their next two matches and progress to the last 16. In doing so, Graham Arnold’s side ensured the country made the knockout stages for the first time since 2006.
Argentina midfielder Rodrigo De Paul agreed with Scaloni that his team should be wary of their tag as favourites for the match, saying they had studied Australia’s victories against Tunisia and Denmark.
“It will be a similar game to that of Poland,” De Paul said. “We'll have the ball, but they'll have wide players on the flanks – coverage will be important.
“I think it's a very fast team, focusing on wide players, and they have tall centre backs as well. I think we shouldn't make fouls near the area.
“They have very fast wingers, and their main strength is their counter-attack, so we need to be very careful. We shouldn't be on the back foot. It will be difficult for our midfield and defence so our forwards are free to roam.”
Meanwhile, Arnold declared his team would go into the match with “all guns blazing”. The Australian said the side's success to this point has been reward for a taxing qualifying campaign.
Because of Covid-19 restrictions, Australia were forced to play the majority of their matches away from home, including five in Qatar. In June, they came through the inter-continental play-off there to reach the global finals.
“The universe is paying us back for the hard work we put in,” Arnold said. “We played four games out of 20 at home, and we had some hard journeys. But Covid helped unite this team together; these boys were in lockdown in hotels.
“The fact we played five qualifiers in Qatar gave us experience of being here, and now we’ve won six out of seven games in Qatar. For us, it’s a home from home.
“One thing we have achieved is bringing light to the nation after Covid and reuniting our sport. We’ve seen the scenes of celebration and it really makes everyone proud, and we want more.
“We haven’t finished yet. We are turning up to win another game tomorrow.”
On Argentina, Arnold added: “Look, the group games are past us and it’s a one-off game, anything could happen. It’s 11 versus 11, a battle, a war and we’ve got to fight that. We’ll give it everything, all guns blazing.
“We respect Argentina, for sure, but we can’t focus solely on them. We respect them but we respect ourselves and what we bring to the table.”