'The World Cup is in the past', says Argentina manager Scaloni

Buenos Aires, Mar 22 (IANS): Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni has called on his players to be ready for a new challenge after their triumphant 2022 FIFA World Cup campaign in Qatar.

"We enjoyed ourselves as we should have but the World Cup is in the past," Scaloni told a news conference on Tuesday.

"I now have another goal as the coach and there are new challenges. My job now is to try to keep the players at the same level. They can't afford to relax and they know it.

"If we lose, the sun will rise the next day and it's the same if we win, [but] we have to show our opponents that we are a very tough team to beat."

The comments came as Scaloni's men prepare to host Panama in Buenos Aires on Thursday and Curacao in Santiago del Estero next Tuesday, a Xinhua report said.

The fixtures will be the Albiceleste's first outings since their victory over France in the World Cup final in Lusail on December 18.

Tickets for the fixture at the Monumental stadium sold out in less than two hours last week as fans scrambled for a chance to see Lionel Messi and company.

"We will enter the match against Panama the same way as we did against France," Scaloni said. "Whoever goes out onto the pitch will know that he is representing Argentina. We will assimilate [as world champions] as best we can. The players are happy to see [the Argentine] people happy. But we cannot do whatever we want just because we are world champions."

Scaloni said he was honored at having been voted the world's top men's coach at FIFA's The Best awards ceremony in February. But in typical self-effacing fashion, he questioned whether he deserved the award.

"When you win a World Cup, everything is magnified, but I can't put myself at the same level as [Pep] Guardiola or [Carlo] Ancelotti," he said. "I am grateful because it is a vote of football people. I accept it for what it is but I try not to take it too seriously."

Scaloni also had words of praise for Messi and said the 35-year-old Argentina captain deserved to continue playing with the national team for as long as he wishes.

"Messi is going to keep coming [to play with the Albiceleste] until he says otherwise. He is happy in the national team," the 44-year-old added.



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