Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella sought to take the pressure off his side going into Wednesday's FIFA World Cup™ semi-final against the Netherlands in Sao Paulo, claiming that they had 'already won'.
"Our intention was to go as far as possible, and to try to get in among the best four teams. Having reached this stage, we will never settle for losing now, but for me this group of players have already won," Sabella said.
Argentina are preparing to play their first World Cup semi-final in 24 years, since Diego Maradona's side reached the Final in Italy in 1990. Then they lost 1-0 to West Germany in the final, and the Germans lie in wait this time after their stunning 7-1 defeat of Brazil in Belo Horizonte.
"We have already crossed the threshold, but now we will try to go a bit further and take another small step forward," Sabella added ahead of a match that will be played on Argentina's National Day, the anniversary of the country's declaration of independence.
Argentina have reached this stage with five wins in their five matches so far, all of them by a one-goal margin. That run includes a 1-0 victory over Switzerland in Sao Paulo in the last 16, when they required an Angel Di Maria goal to clinch the win late in extra time.
Di Maria has been excellent for Argentina, but he will miss the match due to a thigh injury, robbing Sabella of vital attacking thrust in midfield. Benfica's Enzo Perez is likely to start, having come on in Di Maria's place in last Saturday's 1-0 quarter-final success against Belgium.
"I always said Di Maria was extremely important. He brings balance to the side, can perform various different jobs and associates well with (Lionel) Messi," said the coach of the Real Madrid man. "He has won the Champions League and all of Europe wants him in their side.
"We have to adapt to the circumstances and the moment. Perez was the player of the year in Portugal. He has different characteristics, but he is a dynamic player and occupies the spaces well."
Aguero set for return
Sabella, who delayed the start of his squad's training session at the Corinthians Arena by half an hour to allow his players to watch the end of the first semi-final, is also set to welcome back Marcos Rojo at left-back.
He is available again after suspension, so Jose Maria Basanta will drop out to make way, while Sergio Aguero will probably be among the substitutes despite having shaken off a thigh problem. "He is better. We will see what the circumstances of the match are and if we need him, but obviously he is ready," said the coach of the Manchester City man.
Argentina must get the better of a Dutch side who have impressed on their run to the last four, with coach Louis van Gaal showing himself to be one of the wiliest tacticians in the business. Sabella warned his side to be wary of the Netherlands' threat on the counter-attack, especially with the Oranje boasting the devastating pace on the ball of Arjen Robben, and also heaped praise on Van Gaal.
"They have a brilliant coach. He has shown throughout his career that he is capable of changing his team's tactical set-up," said Sabella. "He is a very intelligent person."