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SPORTS | 16-12-2022 11:28

Argentina’s players bullish as final showdown with France approaches

Cristian 'Cuti' Romero and Emiliano 'Dibu' Martínez say the Albiceleste's players are ready to "give their all to take the cup home."

Lionel Messi has hailed Argentina’s strength of character after the national team reached the World Cup final. 

The skipper scored the opener from the penalty spot in last Tuesday’s 3-0 semi-final win over Croatia and then had a hand in two goals scored by Julián Álvarez at Lusail Stadium as Argentina eased through to Sunday's final against France.

The victory continued a remarkable turnaround from Lionel Scaloni's team after they started their campaign in Qatar with a shock 2-1 defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia.

"I think the first match was a very tough blow for us because we had been 36 games unbeaten," said Messi, who spoke to reporters after being named man of the match.

"To start in that way when nobody expected us to lose was a real test for this group of players. But we showed how strong we are. What we have done since then was really difficult because every game has been a final. We have played five finals, won them all, and let's hope we win the next one."

Messi added: "This group has strength of character but is also so intelligent. We have a team that is capable of reading games, that knows how to suffer when they have to suffer. We have a great coaching staff who don’t leave anything to chance. That helps because it means we always know what we need to do."

Argentina's captain is now the joint-top scorer at the tournament with five goals as he looks to win the World Cup for the first time in his glittering career at the age of 35. His goal that opened the scoring against Croatia was his 11th World Cup goal, allowing him to equal the Argentine record held by Gabriel Batistuta.

"I am really enjoying myself. Luckily I feel good and strong going into every game," he said. "We seem to find strength where we have none."

Goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez told reporters after the Croatia match that Argentina is ready to take on anyone.

"You can't believe this beautiful journey we're on. We started off losing the first game and everything went against us, but the truth is that we played against great teams and we showed that we are ready for more,” said the stopper.

Martínez, 30, also had words of praise for the national team captain. 

"There are a lot of coaches who say Messi doesn't run ... but they all forget that when he grabs it he makes the difference. We are very proud to have him and the truth is it’s an advantage," he said.

Central defender Cristian 'Cuti' Romero also praised Messi.

"The truth is that Leo is crazy. Everyone knows what kind of player he is … he's a reference, he's a guy who always goes for more. He's been beaten many times and he always gets up again," he said.

Martínez, meanwhile, said that Argentina’s qualification for the final was a triumph for South American football.

"It's a shame that the South Americans didn't go further, because we know that we are warriors and we always fight to the end, but we try to represent South America as best we can," he said.

Midfielder Rodrigo de Paul said the side would give everything for the fans back home.

"We are not football players, we are people who play football and we have a lot of problems too, but when we go out there with this shirt we forget everything and we showed it again today," he explained.

Romero said France faces a tough battle at the Lusail as Argentina won’t stop fighting until the very end.

"We've shown that we're lions, and whatever happens on Sunday we're going to give our all to take it [the cup] home," he said.

 

– TIMES/AFP

 

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