Scaloni Concerned Over Rest Time But Won't Take Aussies Lightly

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Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has lamented the short time between their last game and their Round of 16 clash against Australia tonight at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.

Group C winners Argentina and Group D runners-up Australia meet for the first time at a FIFA World Cup. Both teams recovered from opening defeats with successive victories to seal their spot in the next round. 

Argentina bounced back from a stunning 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia, ending their 36-game unbeaten run. For the Aussies, spirited wins over Tunisia and Denmark ensured the Socceroos entered the World Cup's knockout stage for the first time since 2006, where they lost to eventual champions Italy.

“Australia, who finished second in the group, played at 6pm, and we finished first (in our group) but played at 10pm. We went to bed at 4am, and that has an impact when you have a game in 48 hours,” Scaloni told reporters yesterday.

Scaloni, whose Argentina have won five of the teams' previous encounters against Australia (D1 L1), including a 4-2 victory at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2005, stressed his team would 'break their backs to win' and La Albiceleste will not underestimate their opponents from down under.

“We will break our backs on this pitch to compete; we know how difficult this World Cup is; this is football,” he said.

“We saw what happened yesterday (when Germany and Belgium were knocked out in the group stage), but this is not surprising. When you say big national teams deserve to be in the next stage, that doesn't always happen.

“Australia is a good team. It's 11 against 11. You have to put aside the theoretical favourtism and play the game. Our idea is to play as we did in the last games.

“Their form doesn't surprise me, they are a good team with a tradition in World Cups, and that makes it difficult,” Scaloni added.

The 44-year-old tactician also dismissed worries about Angel Di Maria's fitness. He said the team had a recovery session earlier, but the forward's status would be accessed before the game. 

“This afternoon's (yesterday) training will give us a clearer picture. After practice, we will decide on the team, according to Angel's progress and other players. If he is okay, he will play.

“Huevo Acuña was substituted because he had a yellow card, but he is fine.”

Lionel Messi is set to make the 1,000th appearance of his career and his 169th cap for Argentina. 

Australian players at a training session.

Aussies declare war

The Socceroos, on the other hand, will hope to go past the last 16 stage for the first time in their history. Australia coach Graham Arnold has declared war on Argentina, adding that the technical team have to ensure the 'boys are in great shape.'

“No disrespect to Argentina or anything at all, but it's 11 v 11, and it's 10 blue shirts against 10 yellow shirts, and it's a battle,” the 59-year-old who once played against Argentina and Diego Maradona in 1993 said yesterday.

“It's a war, and we've got to fight that and make sure that the boys are in great physical and mental shape, they've got great energy, and we go out there and give it all guns blazing,” he added.

Arnold said Australia's performances against Argentina over the years have been good. He declared Argentina brings the best out of Australia every time. 

“I think that Argentina brings the best out of Australia. Our performances against them have been very strong and very good.

“You will see the best of every player on the pitch for Australia tomorrow night (today) because of who we're playing. The brains need to be switched on every second.

They play in two waves — slow to try to make you relax, but when you relax, that's when they hit you,” he added.

When: Today at 10.00pm 

Where: Ahmad bin Ali Stadium

Capacity: 45,032

Key stats:
- Argentina have played eight round of 16 matches since the current tournament format was introduced in 1986, losing only to Romania in 1994 and eventual champions France four years ago.
- Including two in Qatar, Argentina forward Leo Messi has scored eight World Cup goals over five tournaments since 2006. None of them have been in knockout matches.
- Australia have played only one previous last 16 match in their six visits to the World Cup, losing 1-0 to Italy courtesy of a controversial penalty in 2006.
- Australia did not concede a goal in their last two group matches in Qatar, their first clean sheets since their maiden trip to the finals in 1974.

Previous meetings:
- Argentina have played Australia seven times since 1988, winning five, drawing one and losing one. The teams have never met at the World Cup finals but Argentina won a two-legged intercontinental playoff to qualify for the 1994 tournament. 


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