Sports, Football

Novice Scaloni looks to outwit master Van Gaal at World Cup

Published : 08 Dec 2022 07:37 PM

Argentina's Lionel Scaloni is the youngest coach at this World Cup, but the 44-year-old intends to prove his relative inexperience is no obstacle against Louis van Gaal and the Netherlands in Friday's quarter-final.

Having witnessed first-hand Argentina's World Cup campaign unravel in 2018 as the assistant to Jorge Sampaoli, Scaloni was not an obvious choice to take over the top job in the wake of a last-16 exit.

Without any previous senior head coach experience, Scaloni was initially appointed on an interim basis as the Argentine federation searched for Sampaoli's successor, but he eventually earned a permanent deal -- recently extended to 2026.

He brushed off the disapproval from those who felt he lacked the qualifications to lead the two-time world champions, but Scaloni also had to win over the trust of the players.

Scaloni did just that by helping end Argentina's 28-year trophy drought with victory at the 2021 Copa America after a 1-0 win over hosts Brazil in the final.

He succeeded where the likes of Daniel Passarella, Marcelo Bielsa, Alejandro Sabella and Gerardo Martino did not, without also forgetting Diego Maradona's colourful, but unfruitful two-year spell in charge.

"At first there was mistrust," midfielder Rodrigo De Paul said after the Copa America triumph. "Now Scaloni could convince us of anything."

Argentina touched down in Qatar among the favourites for the title and with a 36-match unbeaten run.

A shock opening defeat by Saudi Arabia could have spelled disaster and marked a sad farewell for one of the game's all-time greats, Lionel Messi, at his final World Cup.

Instead Scaloni called for calm and dispelled any worries. "We'll pick ourselves up and win the (next) two games," he said.

Argentina indeed resurrected their World Cup bid with 2-0 wins over Mexico and Poland to advance top of their group. They went on to beat Australia 2-1 in the last 16.