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Scaloni defends players’ behavior against Dutch at World Cup

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni dismissed criticism of his players’ behavior during the feisty World Cup quarterfinal match against the Netherlands, saying Monday it is “out of touch with reality.”

There were 17 yellow cards — a record for a World Cup match — and one sending-off as players clashed on numerous occasions before and after Argentina won a penalty shootout to advance to the semifinals.

Scaloni said it was unfair that his players were accused of bad sportsmanship, pointing to previous examples of how they have behaved after matches — whether they won or lost.

“We have to remove this taboo that we do not know how to lose and we do not know how to win,” said Scaloni, speaking a day before Argentina’s match against Croatia in the semifinals. “We lost our first game with Saudi Arabia and went quietly to the hotel to continue preparing for what was coming.

“We won the Copa America in Brazil (last year) and I think you saw the most beautiful image of sportsmanship you could see, with Neymar, (Lionel) Messi, (Leandro) Paredes and other players sitting on the steps of the Maracana.”

Scaloni said the criticism had hurt Argentina’s “pride.”

“This issue must be settled,” he said through an interpreter. “We deeply respect the Netherlands, as we do now for Croatia and all our rivals.

“We must banish the idea that we do not know how to win or lose. That is totally out of touch with reality.”

Since the shocking loss to Saudi Arabia, Argentina has been one more defeat away from elimination but handled the pressure and put together three straight wins to reach the quarterfinals. There, the team conceded goals in the 83rd minute and in the 11th minute of stoppage time to be taken to extra time by the Netherlands.

Argentina defender Nicolas Tagliafico said his team is thriving on playing on the edge.

“We have enough experience to be like this at the moment,” said the left back, who will likely return to the team against Croatia in place of the suspended Marcos Acuna. “In knockout matches, there will be moments where we will have to suffer.

“We have the necessary personality to live it and make it something to enjoy. We are defending the colors of the national team.”

Argentina has struggled to retain its composure late in games in the knockout stage, with Australia creating big chances in the final minutes in the round of 16 and the Netherlands then coming from two goals down.

Scaloni accepted that was something Argentina needed to work on but said the team was struggling to adapt to the increased amount of stoppage time played at this year’s World Cup.

“It is something new to play eight, nine, 10 minutes of added time and it adds some insecurity for the team that is winning,” Scaloni said. “This is a whole new situation that’s happening in this World Cup. I won’t say if it is fair or not but it will become normal in future games.”

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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