Argentina head coach Jorge Sampaoli has “complete faith” in the ability of his side to get past France and reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
The South Americans looked in real danger of crashing out at the group stage before a dramatic victory over Nigeria saw them through to the last 16 as runners-up behind Croatia.
Group C winners France await in Kazan on Saturday – and under-pressure Sampaoli maintains his players will be ready for the challenge.
“We have complete faith in our abilities. Argentina is very strong psychologically and this will allow us to face the match with complete commitment. You will see a team which will have a lot of motivation to win,” Sampaoli said at a press conference, broadcast by FIFATV.
Sampaoli has found himself under the spotlight following the opening 1-1 draw against Iceland and a 3-0 defeat by Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod.
The Argentina coach, though, insists the squad is united.
“We are talking about training a good set of professionals. We need to know how to overcome the challenging moments which always emerge in these competitions,” he said.
“Regardless of what happens, we need to keep fighting. We have been demanding in our preparations and very committed with the entire squad to give their best performance.”
Sampaoli moved to clarify what happened on the touchline during the Nigeria game, where video footage appeared to show the manager asking Messi whether Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero should be sent on.
The Argentina coach maintained: “We looked at different options in an important game and had to make a decision.
“I was simply communicating this, saying that we were going to use one of the strategies we had rehearsed to use more attacking players.”
Messi, who saw a penalty save against Iceland, produced a fine finish to put Argentina ahead against Nigeria.
Sampaoli feels his country have the “best player on earth”, but also others who can rise to the challenge.
“Leo is completely committed to the team, first and foremost you see this on the pitch,” the Argentina coach said.
“He has such clear vision in football, that he allows us sometimes to see what only a true genius can see.
“It is difficult to be at such a great level, he is really a shining light for us all, bearing in mind his capacities, we have to try play as close to his level as we can.”
Sampaoli added: “I am sure France have their own plan to neutralise Leo, but we have our own plan to make his life easier – so let’s see who has the best luck executing their plan.”
Just as France know the threat of Messi, Argentina coach Sampaoli is fully aware of the dangers of an on-form France – led by Paris St Germain teenager Kylian Mbappe.
“What is most worrisome about France beyond their youth is the skill of some of their players,” he said.
“We want to control the game throughout, if we don’t I am sure it will become a very physical game, which will not suit us at all.”