Former Argentina national team coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino described the team’s dramatic 2-1 win over Nigeria in their final World Cup group stage game “a huge relief” and feels it could spur the Albiceleste on to a deep run at Russia 2018.
Following a 1-1 opening day draw against Iceland and a 3-0 loss to Croatia, Argentina needed an outright win against Nigeria in their final Group D game.
With the game tied at 1-1, Argentina were staring elimination in the face before Marcos Rojo’s 86th minute goal sent them through.
“It is a huge relief,” said Martino in an interview with ESPN FC.
“To emerge from such a desperate situation now gives the team tranquility and that could lead to better performances in the tournament.”
With the group stage now in the past, the former Barcelona coach feels like Argentina will be able to play toward their strengths.
He said: “They have taken care of a great responsibility in getting past the group stage. You can see how difficult it has been for every team. Germany are out; Argentina, Brazil and Spain all had trouble.
“Now it’s the start of a new tournament for the players and that will help them. I think they’ll play with more calmness and will be looser.”
And ahead of Saturday’s round of 16 clash against France, Martino said:
“France is certainly a candidate to win [the World Cup]. They have very good players. It will be interesting to see how the match unfolds, especially in midfield. Argentina, with its great individuals, is capable of anything.”