BY AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE – AFP
The triumphant Argentine manager, Lionel Scaloni, declared it was up to the illustrious Lionel Messi to determine whether he would be playing in yet another World Cup, as the South American nation rejoiced over their stirring victory against France in the title final match on Sunday.
Scaloni, who was emotional in his post-match news 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 Mbappe’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. He is more than entitled to decide whether he wants to keep playing for Argentina or not, or how he wants to proceed 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 unparalleled, something I’ve never seen before,” Scaloni said.
After the match, Messi vowed to continue playing international football despite realizing 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 bag the first Champions League title.
Scaloni, who guided Argentina to bag the Copa America 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. There are no rivalries. Everyone is headed in the same direction and this is for the whole country. It is the greatest pride to play for your 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,” Scaloni elaborated.
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 replied.
“We knew if we played our game, we were going to create chances. We kept attacking and before the penalty shootout I told them the same thing: To remain calm,” he replied.
Scaloni said his goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez, had crucial words of encouragement before the nailbiting penalty shootout.
“He was very positive. He told his teammates he was going to save some penalties and then we had so many players ready and willing to take penalties,” the coach said.
Scaloni was also asked about what his message would be to the late Argentine great Diego Maradona, who died just over two years ago.
Maradona captained Argentina to their second World Cup crown in 1986.
“You make me realize that he’s not here. 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,” he said, wearing a new Argentina shirt with three stars on it to represent their three triumphs.