By Nick Mulvenney
AL RAYYAN, Qatar, Dec 8 (Reuters) – Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni was guarded about whether Angel di Maria would be available for Friday’s World Cup quarter-final against the Netherlands but said on Thrusday that every player who took the field would be fit.
Forward Di Maria missed the last-16 victory over Australia due to a left thigh injury and Scaloni also faced questions about the fitness of Rodrigo De Paul after reports in the media, which the midfielder denied, that he had a muscle issue.
“In principle, they’re feeling well and we will see in today’s training and come up with a lineup,” he told a news conference, before betraying his irritation at the media coverage.
“Yesterday, we trained behind closed doors so I don’t know where this information is coming from … (but) the team comes first, so if you’re out on the field, you must be fit so that you can help the team.”
Scaloni has made a habit of switching around the supporting cast for Lionel Messi and resisted questions about whether Enzo Fernandez might be able to push forward, or whether Paulo Dybala might be set for his first minutes in Qatar.
What the 44-year-old coach was prepared to commit to was 100% effort from his players at the Lusail Stadium.
“We know that our team will break their backs as we have done in previous games,” he added. “Sometimes we’ve played very well, sometimes not that well, but we have always stood up for ourselves and that’s the thing that our people value.
“We know that we will give it all on the pitch. We know that football sometimes can be very beautiful and sometimes it can be cruel.”
Scaloni would also not be drawn on whether he preferred to play arch-rivals Brazil or Croatia in the semi-finals if Argentina get through and said he felt the tournament was still wide open.
“It is a very, very thin line,” he said. “We cannot really tell who are the favourites and who can win it. We are talking about evenly matched national teams.”
In the last two World Cup meetings between Argentina and Netherlands, in the group stage in 2006 and a semi-final in 2014 which the Albiceleste won on penalties, neither side was able to score a goal in normal or extra time.
Scaloni said Argentina had been practising spot-kicks but hoped the match did not come down to a shootout.
“They always take penalties before and after matches but it’s all about luck when it comes to the penalty shootout,” he said.
“I hope we don’t get to the penalty shootout, we hope the match is over before that.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Ken Ferris)
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