Lionel Scaloni has told Lionel Messi "the door will always be open" for the Argentina captain to play in the 2026 World Cup.

Messi last month got his hands on the trophy he so desperately wanted, lifting the World Cup in Qatar following a victory over France in a thrilling final.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward scored twice in a 3-3 draw to take his tally for the tournament to seven and was also on target in a penalty shootout as Argentina dethroned Les Bleus.

Messi, 35, also became the first man to win two Golden Balls as he inspired his team in what he said would be his last World Cup.

The mercurial Messi will be nearing 40 when Argentina look to defend their title in a tournament that will be staged in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026, but head coach Scaloni has not given up hope of being able to call upon the forward.

"I think Messi can get to the next World Cup," he told Radio Calvia. "It will depend a lot on what he wants, on whether he feels good.

"The door will always be open. He is happy on the pitch and it would be very nice for us."

Scaloni does not think Argentina's World Cup success was essential to secure Messi's place among the best players of all time.

"I don't think it was necessary to be one of the greatest or the greatest. You always ask for more. I don't know what else you are going to ask for now," he continued.

"I am happy for him and for the country. For the joy we gave him and we gave ourselves. The days we spent in Argentina were full of euphoria and affection. It was worth it."

Speculation has continued over Scaloni's future despite the 44-year-old becoming just the third boss to win both the World Cup and Copa America, after Mario Zagallo and Carlos Alberto Parreira achieved that feat for Brazil.

Argentinian Football Association president Claudio Tapia rubbished talk that Scaloni may not stay on and the head coach stated: "Today I am happy where I am."

Lionel Scaloni has no intention of stepping down as head coach after guiding Argentina to World Cup glory, says Argentine Football Association (AFA) president Claudio Tapia.

Argentina defeated France 4-2 on penalties in a thrilling Qatar 2022 final that finished 3-3 after extra time to add to the Copa America crown won last year.

With his team's latest success, Scaloni became just the third manager in history to win both competitions, after former Brazil bosses Mario Zagallo and Carlos Alberto Parreira.

The 44-year-old is due to be out of contract later this week and has been tipped to take on a high-profile position at club level, but Tapia does not see that happening.

"I have no doubt he will continue to be the head coach of the Argentina team," AFA chief Tapia told reporters.

"We are both men of our word. We shook hands and we said yes to each other. He is currently travelling but as soon as he comes back we are going to finalise it."

Scaloni has been in charge since July 2018, initially on a caretaker basis, and also won the inaugural Finalissima earlier this year with victory over European champions Italy.

However, the decision to appoint Scaloni as Jorge Sampaoli's successor after defeat to France in the last 16 of Russia 2018 was not a unanimous one.

"Ninety-nine per cent of people thought we were wrong or even crazy," Tapia said. "But this team brought happiness to the people with the three titles they won."

Lionel Scaloni was left saddened by a sudden realisation late Argentina great Diego Maradona was unable to enjoy their World Cup success in Qatar.

Scaloni's side beat France 4-2 on penalties following a remarkable 3-3 draw after extra time at Lusail Stadium on Sunday.

It was Argentina's first World Cup triumph since Maradona inspired them to glory in 1986, earning Lionel Messi his maiden success in the competition.

Maradona, who played for his national team between 1977 and 1994, died in November 2020 at the age of 60 after suffering a cardiac arrest.

His death was followed by three days of national mourning, putting into context just how significant a figure he was in Argentina.

And for Scaloni on Sunday, being reminded of Maradona's passing was difficult.

Asked what he would say to Maradona if he had been present, Scaloni told reporters: "Well, you make me realise that he's not here, otherwise you'd think he was amongst us.

"Well fortunately we managed to lift this trophy, something we've been dreaming of for so long, we're such a football passionate country.

"I hope he enjoyed it from above. I'm sure if he was here he'd have enjoyed it so much, he'd have been the first one on the pitch.

"Now you ask me this you make me realise he's not here. I wish he was here to enjoy this moment."

Lionel Scaloni says there will be a place for Lionel Messi in Argentina's 2026 World Cup squad if he has a change of heart after he lifted the trophy for the first time in Qatar on Sunday.

Messi scored twice in an incredible final against France, which the Albiceleste won 4-2 on penalties following a thrilling 3-3 draw.

Argentina looked to be cruising to victory after goals from Messi and Angel Di Maria put them two up at the break, but Kylian Mbappe's late quickfire double forced extra time.

Messi put the Copa America champions back ahead in the additional 30 minutes, only for Mbappe to level once more for his hat-trick and take the game all the way to penalties.

Aurelien Tchouameni and Kingsley Coman failed to convert in the shoot-out, which Gonzalo Montiel ended by slotting in the winning spot-kick to make Argentina world champions for a third time.

Messi stated after the match he would carry on playing at international level, but the 35-year-old confirmed before the tournament started that this would be his last World Cup.

Argentina head coach Scaloni says his captain will be selected in four years' time if he changes his mind.

"First of all we need to save him a spot for the next World Cup," Scaloni told reporters. "If he wants to keep playing, he'll be with us.

"He's more than entitled to decide if he wants to keep playing for Argentina or not, or what he wants to do with his career."

Messi was pipped to the Golden Boot due to Mbappe's hat-trick, having started the match level on five goals.

Argentina's star man was, however, awarded with the Golden Ball as the best player in the tournament and Scaloni heaped praise on the mercurial forward.

He said: "It's such a huge pleasure to coach him and his team-mates.

"Everything he transmits to his teams, it's unparalleled, something I've never seen before. He gives so much to his team-mates."

After throwing away a two-goal lead with less than 10 minutes to play, before again letting France back in during extra time, Scaloni was relieved it was finally mission accomplished for Argentina.

"The match was completely insane," Scaloni stated. "For me as coach, I know we had a good match.

"We could’ve won in the first 90 [minutes], however it was not possible. I wasn’t lucky enough, but we were great.

"My feelings? I have the best feelings ever. It wasn’t in my plans, I didn’t envisage to be World Cup winners, [but] we are, and what matters is how we achieved this."

The years leading up to this World Cup triumph have seen Messi take more of a leadership role within the Argentina team, despite having been captain since 2011.

Scaloni revealed Messi had even helped him to calm his nerves, after he took over in 2018 with limited experience.

"After the Brazil match [1-1] in San Juan, a World Cup qualifying match. I called him before he went back to Paris because I thought we were going to face challenging times," Scaloni said.

"The feelings were so strong and disappointment could be massive, because people are very passionate about our national team, and people could get disappointed.

"[Messi] said it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, we'll move on. if things go well, perfect, we have to try at least.

"That gave me so much energy, it was an emotional boost. With his answer, I realised we were doing things right."

Sunday's World Cup final will not be the first time Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi have met on this stage.

If the encounter at Lusail Stadium is half as good as the instant classic witnessed in Kazan four years ago, then we'll be in for a treat.

France won 4-3 in their last-16 duel, a game that was defined by Argentina's fragility and Les Bleus' ruthlessness.

Didier Deschamps' men of course went on to win the tournament; Argentina soon sacked Jorge Sampaoli and Lionel Messi went into a self-imposed international exile.

It was a seismic contest in a variety of ways.

Mbappe elevated to superstardom

The final of Qatar 2022 is of course being billed as Mbappe versus Messi. Ahead of their meeting in Kazan, this wasn't really the case, with the latter undoubtedly the focus for many.

But at full-time, there was almost a sense of this game being Mbappe's 'arrival' as a global superstar.

 

While his talent was already well known having joined Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, Mbappe's performance against Argentina brought his prodigious ability to a worldwide audience.

He was devastating.

Argentina couldn't handle his speed and ability on the ball, with Mbappe tearing the Albiceleste's slow – and high – back-line to shreds.

First, he darted through them, drawing a foul from Javier Mascherano that resulted in Antoine Griezmann striking the crossbar.

Then he just ran away from them, leaving Mascherano and company in his tracks before surging past Marcos Rojo and winning a penalty that Griezmann coolly slotted home.

It wasn't just about his speed, though. Twice he delivered the decisive touch.

 

Somehow making space for himself in the box, he slammed a left-footed strike through Franco Armani to open his account.

Then he rounded off one of the most memorable goals of the tournament. An intricate counter-attack led to Mbappe steaming up the right flank and latching on to Olivier Giroud's prodded pass before emphatically finding the bottom-left corner with a first-time effort.

It made him the first teenager to score twice in a World Cup match since Pele in 1958.

"When you are to meet a player like Kylian or Leo, of course you make a plan to control them," Sampaoli said. "But if they have a day like Mbappe did, it's very difficult to make the plan work."

Mbappe had truly arrived.

Messi engulfed by the gloom

Just as Mbappe provided an utterly terrifying glimpse of what he'd go on to become, it seemed Messi was on his way out.

Having recently turned 31, there was a perception this was Messi's last tango at the World Cup; after all, he had already retired from international football once before.

And, to be fair, his performance offered little in the way of a response to the idea that he was done.

He did get a couple of assists. The first wasn't exactly one for the highlights reel – it was a tame shot that hit Gabriel Mercado on its way in. Then, his deep cross found Sergio Aguero to head home late on, but Messi was missing the inner fire he's so clearly embraced in Qatar.

At the point of Mercado's fortunate goal, everything was looking quite positive for Argentina as it put them 2-1 up, but they simply weren't defensively sound enough to keep Les Bleus at bay.

 

Similarly, Messi was unable to shoulder the burden of individually inspiring a team that was essentially in crisis, with prominent reports of rifts and a player mutiny against the coaching staff.

Exile followed for Messi.

Lionel Scaloni was appointed – initially as caretaker head coach – in August 2018, with Messi's future unclear. He was left out of Scaloni's early squads, but after a nine-month absence he did eventually return.

He's not looked back. Messi led Argentina to their first major title in 28 years in 2021 as they won the Copa America, and he's been the key figure in the Albiceleste's route to the final of Qatar 2022.

But can he finally win the biggest title that's eluded him?

Eat my goal

There was more to the Kazan classic than just Mbappe and Messi, however.

A topsy-turvy encounter that encapsulated Argentina's roller-coaster campaign had almost everything: drama, engrossing wider narratives, incredible players and some outrageous goals.

Griezmann's penalty opened the scoring, but the match truly came alive with Angel Di Maria's equaliser.

Given space about 30 yards out, he unleashed an unstoppable piledriver out of Hugo Lloris' reach up to his left, sparking maniacal celebrations from Argentina.

 

Those celebrations were matched – and the goal arguably trumped – when France brought the game back to 2-2.

Lucas Hernandez's cross fell kindly to Benjamin Pavard just outside the box and the defender met it with one of the most satisfying half-volleys you're ever likely to see, slicing across the ball to send it spinning with venom into the top-left corner.

Mbappe's exceptional second had Argentina 4-2 up, and even Aguero's ultimate consolation was a goal of real quality, particularly Messi's pass.

But the legacy of this game was Mbappe's elevation to a new plain, and it's from there that he's plotting to deny Messi's bid for immortality this time.

Lionel Messi is the greatest player of all time, which will give Argentina the advantage over France in the World Cup final, according to Emiliano Martinez.

Messi's appearance in Sunday's clash at Lusail Stadium will make him the all-time record appearance maker in World Cup history (26), while he could also become the first player to score in the group stage, round of 16, quarter-final, semi-final and final in a single edition of the tournament. 

Having also played a key role in Argentina winning the Copa America last year, Martinez thinks Messi will again be the difference maker.

"I see him very happy as does every Argentinian, he feels very well on the pitch," the Albiceleste goalkeeper said. 

"I saw a great Messi in the Copa America, he was exceptional and one of the best undoubtedly in the Copa America, and in this World Cup he took [another] step forward. 

"He's playing better, both physically and in football terms. It was quite difficult to get that Messi from the Copa, but he did it.

"He's playing very well and it gives so much energy to the squad, because we have the greatest player. He's excited, he's full of joy and it helps us very much."

Messi was joint-top scorer at the 2021 Copa America with four goals, and is also joint-top scorer at the World Cup with five, level with France's Kylian Mbappe.

Martinez thinks defending champions France will be the favourites on Sunday, but believes Messi could tip things in his team's favour. 

He added: "Obviously when we won [the Copa America] in Brazil, they were the favourites.

"It is the same now, people can say France are favourites. But we have the advantage, to have the greatest player of all time.

"We always like to hear that the opponent is the favourite, because we don't feel inferior or superior to anyone. But as I said, we have the greatest of all time and with a good defence we have a big chance to reach our goal."

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni had a more succinct view of Messi ahead of the game, with many expecting it to be the 35-year-old's final World Cup of an illustrious career.

"We hope this will be his final match and that he can lift this trophy, but the most important thing is to enjoy Messi," he said.

While the game is being billed as Messi v Mbappe, Scaloni does not want to focus on individuals, but thinks it will have to be a complete team effort for Argentina to lift their first World Cup since 1986.

"I think tomorrow's game will be more of a collective effort, not an individual effort," he said. 

"Mbappe is a top player obviously but France also have a number of great players, they work for [Mbappe] and that makes him even better. Obviously he's one of the top players, he's still young so can improve for sure.

"The upcoming match will be beyond [Messi v Mbappe]. We have weapons, strengths, and the match will be defined by every player, not just these two.

"Messi is doing very well and we hope we win, but this is Argentina v France and there are many players who can define this game."

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has "no doubt" Lionel Messi is the greatest player of all time after inspiring La Albiceleste's progression to the World Cup final.

Messi was in irresistible form on Tuesday at Lusail Stadium, playing a key role in all three goals as Argentina beat Croatia 3-0 in Qatar 2022's first semi-final.

He opened the scoring from the spot in the first half after Julian Alvarez was fouled by Dominik Livakovic and then released his strike partner in the build-up to him making it 2-0.

But the best was yet to come.

With 21 minutes to go, Messi embarked on a tremendous run up the right flank as he darted past Josko Gvardiol before then beating the defender again on the outside and eventually cutting back to Alvarez for a simple finish.

Messi became the first player to both score and assist in four separate World Cup matches (since 1966), while his penalty saw the 35-year-old become Argentina's all-time leading scorer in the tournament with 11 goals.

For some, Messi's claim to the 'greatest player of all time' title rides on him winning the World Cup, but not for Scaloni.

He told reporters: "Whether Messi is the greatest player of all time… sometimes as Argentinians it of course looks like we say that just because we are Argentinian.

"Maybe it's selfish. I don't have any doubt saying that: he is the best in history.

"I have the privilege. I am honoured to train him and see him play. It's something exciting because every time you see him play, it's a huge source of motivation for his team-mates, the people, the whole world.

 

"So there is nothing left to say about Messi. It's indeed a privilege to have him in the squad."

While Messi is of course the headline act and the focus for many, Alvarez more than played his part on Tuesday.

His goals will lead to praise, but Scaloni was keen to highlight how important his general work rate and industriousness were for the team effort.

"The match of Julian was excellent, not just because of his two goals, but because he was extremely helpful with the midfielders," Scaloni explained.

"Sometimes we had two midfielders because the others had to cover other players, they had to cover the flanks, and he showcased excellent football [intelligence].

"With his age, [his work ethic] is normal because he wants to give everything on the pitch. What you say to him, he shows it on the pitch.

"We are very happy with him because he was able to score goals, which is something great especially for a striker like him."

Scaloni will emulate some legendary figures of Argentinian football in Cesar Luis Menotti, Carlos Bilardo and Alejandro Sabella by coaching the Albiceleste in the World Cup final.

But he still does not feel worthy of being considered on their level.

"Yes, to reach the final is amazing, but I can't make comparisons with these three names because they are history in the national team," he added.

"They've defended these colours. They made Argentina a great nation. Yes, it's a great source of pride for me to be able to play a final and represent my country.

"But I can't rise to this perch because they made history in the world of football, not only in Argentina.

"For me, just to coach this final is a huge privilege."

Argentina will play the final on Sunday against either France or Morocco, who will tussle at Al Bayt Stadium in the second semi-final on Wednesday.

Croatia are "living for the moment" as they prepare for a World Cup semi-final against Lionel Messi's Argentina, so says Borna Sosa.

Zlatko Dalic's team reached the final in Russia four years ago, losing to France, who will play Morocco in the other semi-final in Qatar.

Croatia were not fancied among the favourites to succeed in Qatar but overcame Brazil on penalties to reach the last four for the third time in their history.

Now they face Argentina, with the prospect of knocking both South American giants out of the World Cup - should Croatia do so, they would be the first team since Germany in 2014 to manage it.

Borna Sosa was excellent against Brazil. keeping Raphinha and then Antony quiet down Croatia's left side, and the full-back has every confidence this team can go the distance.

"Of course. Now, everything is possible," he said. "We are very dangerous like we showed. If it comes to penalties, I think everybody will have in their heads that we've won many, many times.

"The last World Cup, we were second. We are coming with a new squad with 17 and 18-year-old players, and we are showing that we have a lot of quality in our country.

"We have only four million people and we are showing a lot of good results for many years. That's why I'm proud of the whole nation because we are really living for this moment.

"This is our biggest strength as a team - to fight together. We do not have stars in the team who don't want to run or defend.

"We are really showing a lot of respect to the game and we are trying to give everything on the pitch."

It was Argentina's continental rivals Brazil that had become renowned for their dancing at this tournament.

Lionel Scaloni, though, wants his team to "keep dancing" as they bid for a place in the showpiece on December 18.

He said: "It's an objective. Now that we're dancing, we have to keep dancing.

"We'd like to continue, with all the respect we have to have with Croatia. Let's hope we live up to it."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina – Lionel Messi

Messi, likely playing at his final World Cup, is leading the charge for Argentina as he looks to add the trophy to his collection.

The 35-year-old has both scored and assisted a goal in three different World Cup matches, including two at this year's tournament (vs Mexico and Netherlands).

Since 1966, no player has ever done so in four separate games.

Croatia – Marcelo Brozovic

Marcelo Brozovic has been excellent as a deep-lying playmaker for Croatia, and the Inter midfielder might well be crucial to stopping Messi.

If Brozovic can block off the central space and force Argentina wide, then they might just be able to limit Messi's influence.

PREDICTION

This is the third World Cup meeting between Argentina and Croatia, and first in the knockout stages. Argentina won 1-0 in 1998, before Croatia's 3-0 win in the 2018 edition in Russia.

Opta makes Argentina the favourites (55.8 per cent), with Croatia given a 17.9 per cent chance of winning.

Eight of Croatia's last nine World Cup knockout matches have gone to extra-time, however, so do not be surprised if this match is drawn over 90 minutes, or even 120.

Lionel Scaloni dismissed the assertion his Argentina team were rightly criticised for their antics against the Netherlands.

Argentina face Croatia in the first World Cup semi-final on Tuesday, after overcoming the Netherlands on penalties.

The Copa America champions led 2-0 at Lusail Stadium yet were pegged back to a 2-2 draw by Wout Weghorst's double.

But Emiliano Martinez's saves paved the way for Lautaro Martinez to score the winning penalty in the shoot-out and send Argentina through to the last four.

The match was not without its controversy. Some of Argentina's players celebrated wildly in front of the Netherlands squad, while there were tussles on the touchline and Lionel Messi seemed to confront Oranje coach Louis van Gaal.

Scaloni, however, does not believe his team behaved poorly.

"The game was played the way we have to play, both teams did that," he said in a press conference.

"Some games, things can happen, arguments, challenging times. That's why there's a referee to ensure there's justice.

"We need to put an end to this idea that this is Argentina. We lost to Saudi Arabia and didn't do anything.

"We won the Copa America in Brazil and experienced the most sporting behaviour with Messi, [Leandro] Paredes and Neymar, all sat together in the tunnel.

"I'm not convinced of this idea of unsporting behaviour. We play with pride, the way we have to play and then the referee is in charge of decisions. We respect all the teams, the Netherlands, Croatia and all the opponents. That's one of our main characteristics of our personality.

"We need to end this idea of not being good winners or losers, that's very far from what we are as a team and a squad, and the way we represent this nation."

Messi, usually so composed, even seemed caught up in the emotion against the Netherlands, though with this likely to be his final World Cup, the 35-year-old's desire to end his wait for the trophy seems truly fierce.

Scaloni said: "Messi, I know him so well, he's always been like that, always been a winner, he's so eager and willing to keep playing football."

Asked how it felt to coach Messi at his last World Cup, Scaloni added: "We will see whether he continues playing or not, we will keep enjoying him, that's all we can do – for us and the world of football.

"If things turn out well, everything will be good for us, we have our whole country supporting us."

Lionel Messi was motivated to lead Argentina past the Netherlands due to feeling "a little attacked" by Louis van Gaal's pre-match comments, Lionel Scaloni said.

Messi is enjoying an outstanding World Cup and continued in that vein on Friday as he scored one and created another in a 2-2 quarter-final draw with the Netherlands.

Argentina advanced after a penalty shoot-out, recovering after Wout Weghorst's dramatic double had denied them victory in normal time.

There had predictably been plenty of focus on Messi heading into the match, with Netherlands coach Van Gaal suggesting Argentina were relying too heavily on their captain in attack while he would not be asked to defend.

Messi appeared to gesture in Van Gaal's direction on multiple occasions, including after scoring, cupping his ears in an apparent reference to Juan Roman Riquelme's own celebration.

Van Gaal and Riquelme were at odds during their time together at Messi's former club Barcelona.

"I'm not going to give Van Gaal advice, but it's not easy to make [Messi] play angry," Argentina coach Scaloni told TyC Sports.

"I don't know if he was angry, but to make him play the way he played today... it's exciting.

"These are things that happen on the pitch and stay there. But we didn't play with one less when we didn't have the ball, we played with 11.

"I think with Leo he felt a little attacked and showed that he is the best of all time. We are happy to have him."

After a last-16 win over Australia, in which Messi was similarly influential, team-mate Alexis Mac Allister had explained how the legendary forward was inspired to perform.

Messi was involved in a confrontation with Australia's Aziz Behich moments before scoring his first World Cup knockout goal.

"Leo, when these things happen, he brings out that inner fire that he has, that personality that makes him even bigger than he is," Mac Allister told reporters.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni praised his side for "facing every situation" after watching them come through a penalty shoot-out to see off the Netherlands and secure a place in the World Cup semi-finals.

Scaloni's men squandered a 2-0 lead handed to them by a Nahuel Molina strike and a Lionel Messi penalty with two late efforts from Dutch substitute Wout Weghorst sending the match to extra-time and beyond.

Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez saved the Netherlands' first two spot-kicks, from Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis, before Lautaro Martinez slotted home the winning kick to send Argentina through to a last four clash with Croatia.

Scaloni said: "Argentina have team spirit because we know how to face every situation in the game.

"It's true we did not deserve to go to a penalty shoot-out but we fought to the end because the Dutch caused trouble for us.

"It was a strange second half. When you think everything is over and then it is not you are surprised.

"This team has pride, experience as well as young players, and this is key as we want to fight."

The match boiled over on several occasions with Spanish official Antonio Mateu Lahoz setting a World Cup record by issuing 15 cards, 14 yellows and one red – to Denzel Dumfries after the shoot-out – to overtake the previous record of 14, set in 2002 between Cameroon and Germany.

He also seemed to lose control on a couple of occasions with both benches involved in pushing and shoving in the second half of normal time and again after 90 minutes.

Scaloni said: "I don't want to talk about the referee, I have a very good relationship with him and luckily everything turned out well.

"The game was heated, this was a quarter-final, it happens. It stays on the pitch but we had 11 men out there."

Asked if he was surprised at the Netherlands' approach late on of tossing long balls towards Weghorst and fellow substitute Luuk De Jong, Scaloni refused to comment.

He said: "I won't enter this debate. They played in a way I didn't expect but they were almost out of the World Cup, each coach works out how they want to play.

"I won't talk about their philosophy, I am no-one to judge how they played."

Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal now enters retirement having taken charge of the Dutch for a third and final time.

The 71-year-old has been heavily criticised by the country's media for his playing style during the World Cup but insists he bows out with his head held high.

He said: "There's nothing to reproach myself for. The boys fought until the bitter end and now they are in the dressing room feeling despondent. They gave everything, I am incredibly proud.

"I had a wonderful time. It's incredibly painful to go out like this, especially as I did everything I could to prevent this from happening.

"What I am leaving is an excellent group, as people and footballers. I was the coach for 20 games and we didn't lose any of them. There is a reason for that."

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni said his players were born to handle high-pressure World Cup contests after Lionel Messi led them to a 2-1 win over Australia in the last 16.

Messi scored his ninth World Cup goal – and his first in a knockout tie – as Argentina edged out Australia at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on Saturday, with Julian Alvarez also getting on the scoresheet following a mistake from Mathew Ryan.

Argentina will now face the Netherlands for a semi-final place on Friday, a prospect which appeared unlikely when they began their campaign with a stunning defeat to Saudi Arabia 11 days ago.

Asked how the Albiceleste had managed to turn their tournament around, Scaloni said: "What I said before the Mexico match was that these guys were born to play these games.

"Argentina have played three games which were very intense, where being knocked out was a reality. But these players are capable. Sometimes the urgency and anxiety makes you feel different.

"Even if things happen like the Saudi Arabia game or the Australia goal today, we have to keep believing in our football. 

"There is no pressure in football, that's how I see it. Pressure is something else.

"If you've watched Argentina today, these are memories which will stay with you forever. You've seen these young players, and also Leo, playing beautifully."

The next hurdle for Argentina to overcome will be a heavyweight tussle with the nation they beat in both the 1978 World Cup final and the 2014 semi-finals.

While Scaloni acknowledges the Oranje's current crop may not be as easy on the eye as some of their predecessors, he expects a tough test against Louis van Gaal's men.

Asked about Van Gaal's qualities, Scaloni said: "I was a young player at Deportivo La Coruna when he was coaching at Barcelona. He's a great coach and many have to try to take a page from his book. It's a pleasure to face him at a World Cup.

"Today we saw the Netherlands match. They probably don't play as beautifully as some older Dutch teams, but they have very strong points that they will try to use.

"It will be a beautiful game between two historic national teams, and one will be knocked out, unfortunately."

Argentina are hopeful of receiving a fitness boost ahead of Friday, with Scaloni revealing Angel Di Maria – who was an unused substitute on Saturday after suffering a thigh injury – could return.

"I didn't think we were going to help anyone by bringing him on today," he said of Di Maria. "We hope that in the next few days he keeps evolving and he can make it for the next match."

Lionel Messi marked his 1,000th career appearance with his first ever goal in the World Cup knockout stage as Argentina reached the quarter-finals with a 2-1 win over Australia on Saturday.

Australia were content to frustrate their opponents at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, but Messi carved the Socceroos open in trademark fashion as half-time approached – picking out the bottom-left corner to net.

If Argentina's first goal was sublime, their second bordered on the ridiculous as Australia goalkeeper Mathew Ryan gifted possession to Julian Alvarez, who made no mistake to seal the win.

Australia halved the arrears when Craig Goodwin's effort deflected off Enzo Fernandez and beyond Emiliano Martinez, but Argentina never looked likely to be pegged back as they teed up a quarter-final clash with the Netherlands.

Argentina struggled to make any early headway as Graham Arnold's men defended resolutely, but La Albiceleste had their seven-time Ballon d'Or winner to thank when they took the lead with their first real attack.

With 35 minutes gone, Messi darted inside from the right wing to latch onto Nicolas Otamendi's lay-off before planting a neat side-footed finish beyond the despairing dive of Ryan. 

Messi saw an effort deflect into Ryan's arms as Argentina chased a second after the restart, but the goalkeeper was at fault as Argentina doubled their lead with 57 minutes gone.

Ryan inexplicably tried to dribble his way out of trouble when pressed by Rodrigo De Paul and Alvarez, and the Manchester City striker applied the simplest of finishes after stealing possession.

Australia reduced the deficit out of nowhere when Goodwin's long-range strike found the bottom-right corner via Fernandez, before Lisandro Martinez denied Aziz Behich a remarkable leveller with a fine last-ditch tackle.

Substitute Lautaro Martinez went close on three occasions before Emiliano Martinez denied Garang Kuol from point-blank range at the last, but Argentina clung on to seal their progress.

Lionel Scaloni has not yet had time to assess Angel Di Maria's fitness as Argentina prepare to take on Australia in the last 16 of the World Cup.

Di Maria was substituted in the second half of Argentina's vital Group C victory over Poland on Wednesday.

Having played in the late match, with opponents Australia through earlier in the day, La Albiceleste have little time to recover ahead of Saturday's match.

Scaloni has described the situation as "absurd", with the Socceroos enjoying precious additional hours of rest despite finishing second in their pool.

Now, as Argentina prepare to return to training late on Friday, Scaloni's focus is on seeing how key man Di Maria is faring.

When a report of the winger's injury was relayed to the coach in his news conference, he replied: "You know more than I do.

"I didn't know Di Maria had a contracture. He felt some discomfort, but contracture? That's new. You have more information than I do.

"Let's wait for today and for tomorrow."

Thursday had been spent resting – described by Rodrigo De Paul as "the first day I could really enjoy being here" – but there is no complacency around the upcoming match.

"Whether [Australia] are inferior or not, we need to see that. I don't fully agree," Scaloni said.

"They are a good team, and this is football. It's 11 versus 11, and this is the reality. We need to leave aside the 'favourites' tag and play the game. Our idea is to play like in the last games."

He added: "As we've been saying all along, we will break our backs on the pitch in this World Cup. We will be there to compete.

"We know how difficult this World Cup is. This is football, we've seen this yesterday and in previous games. For me, these are not surprises.

"When we think about big national teams, we think they should always be in the next phase, but sometimes that does not occur. Things get turned around. That's what happens in football."

As well as a repeat performance from the Poland game, Scaloni hopes to see the atmosphere replicated, too.

"I hope tomorrow can be similar to the match with Poland, because it felt like we were playing back in Argentina," the coach said.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni is unimpressed by the quick turnaround between Wednesday's 2-0 win over Poland and their World Cup last-16 date with Australia.

La Albiceleste won 2-0 at Stadium 974 to top Group E and secure progression to the next round, an outcome that appeared in real doubt after their defeat to Saudi Arabia on matchday one.

Lionel Messi saw a penalty saved by Wojciech Szczesny in the first half, but goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez after the break deservedly put Argentina into the last 16.

Awaiting them are Australia, who earlier in the day beat Denmark to somewhat surprisingly reach the knockout stages.

Argentina will be firm favourites, but Scaloni is annoyed by what he feels is a quick turnaround until the game, which is scheduled for Saturday's late kick-off slot.

"Today we are happy but not euphoric, because I think it's crazy we are playing in just over two days," he told reporters after the game.

"I can't really understand this. It's almost 1am, tomorrow is Thursday. We could have had more rest. 

"I want to make it clear that it doesn't seem right to me that we have just two and a half days of rest after being first in the group. These conditions aren't great."

Nevertheless, many associated with Argentina will just be happy they made it as far as the second round after that shock loss to Saudi Arabia.

Argentina needed to beat Poland to take matters into their own hands, and Scaloni was pleased with how his team managed the expectation.

"We are satisfied with the game we played, it was not easy and neither was the context around the game," he added.

"We had to play and win against a team that had two results in mind. I think we interpreted it correctly, the players played a very good game and we are happy."

Similarly, most will expect Argentina to cruise past the Socceroos at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, but Scaloni is keen to avoid that kind of arrogance.

"We played a good game and we have to continue. We are not candidates or favourites, we are still the same," he continued. 

"We are a difficult team and we are going to fight. It is totally wrong to think that we are going to be champions by winning today.

,"All teams are very tough, like I always said, Saudi Arabia is a great team. Football is football. 

"You can play well and lose, that's the feeling I had after Saudi Arabia. Maybe we didn't play well but we deserved to win.

"All matches are tough and now, if you think the Australia match will be easy, you are wrong. They have shown they are tough. When you play in a World Cup and represent your country, you grow."

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