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SPORTS | 18-12-2022 19:25

Messi can decide World Cup future, says Lionel Scaloni

"If he wants to keep playing, he will be with us," declares Argentina coach after penalty shoot-out victory over France.

Victorious Albiceleste coach Lionel Scaloni said it was up to Lionel Messi to decide whether he wants to play at another World Cup as Argentina celebrated a dramatic win over France in Sunday's final.

Scaloni, who was emotional in his post-match press conference at the Lusail Stadium, praised his players for "breaking their backs" to win the nation's third World Cup.

In a match for the ages in Doha, Argentina triumphed 4-2 in a penalty shootout after Kylian Mbappé's hat-trick ensured the game ended level at 3-3 following extra time. 

Messi, 35, scored twice to win the first World Cup of his glittering career. 

Earlier in the tournament he said the tournament in Qatar would be his last but Scaloni said the ball was in the veteran forward's court.

The coach told reporters it was up to Messi to set a timescale on his retirement when asked about the possibility of his playing at the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

"If he wants to keep playing, he will be with us," Scaloni said. "He is more than entitled to decide whether he wants to keep playing for Argentina or not or what he wants to do with his career. He is such a huge player for us. It is such a pleasure for us to coach him and his teammates. Everything he transmits to his teammates is unparallelled – something I've never seen before."

After the match Messi vowed to continue playing international football despite realising his lifetime ambition, but he admitted his career was in its final stages.

"I want to keep experiencing a few more matches as world champion... my career is nearly over because these are my last years," said Messi, whose next target will be to help his club side Paris Saint-Germain capture a first Champions League title.

 

'Fighters'

Scaloni, who led Argentina to the Copa América crown last year, praised his men for digging deep against defending champions France.

"We have fighters who were very strong despite the goals that we conceded," he said.

"These players play for their people, play for Argentina fans – that's what I have always seen," he added.

"There are no rivalries. Everyone is pulling in the same direction and this is for the whole country. It is the greatest pride to play for your own country. The players broke their backs. They have achieved this today because they understand what they had to do on the pitch and we are happy and proud."

The coach was asked what he had told his players at the beginning of extra time after France had come back from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 in normal time, and before the penalty shoot-out.

"I told them we had to be optimistic," he said. "The team was playing well and they [France] had two chances."

"We knew if we played our game we were going to create chances. We kept on attacking and before the penalty shoot-out the same thing – I told them to remain calm."

Scaloni said his goalkeeper, Emiliano Martínez, had crucial words of encouragement before the nail-biting penalty shoot-out.

"He was very positive," the coach said. "He told his teammates he was going to save some penalties and then we had so many players ready and willing to take penalties."

Scaloni was also asked about what his message would be to late footballing great Diego Maradona, who died just over two years ago. Maradona captained Argentina to their second World Cup crown in 1986.

"You make me realise that he's not here," he said, wearing a new Argentina shirt with three stars on it to represent their three triumphs.

"Otherwise you think he's amongst us. Fortunately we managed to lift this trophy, something we have been dreaming about for so long. We're such a football passionate country. If he'd been here I'm sure he would have been the first one on the pitch. You asking me this question makes me remember he's not here."

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by John Weaver, AFP

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