Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has lauded Lautaro Martinez and claimed that the Inter striker is a key figure in his squad, ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Martinez has been included in the Albiceleste’s squad as they challenge for the trophy in Qatar, with attention focused on what could be Paris Saint-Germain star Lionel Messi’s final World Cup, and confidence high after last year’s Copa America success.

In an interview published in today’s newspaper edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport, Scaloni assessed Argentina’s chances ahead of their opening game against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, as well as the importance of Nerazzurri striker Martinez to his group.

“A terrible thought had taken root among the fans and players, that we will never win,” Scaloni suggested.

“Success in the Copa America broke this chain, it took a weight off Leo and people had faith in the national team. The seeds of change had been planted earlier, in the defeat to Brazil in the same tournament two years before.

Martinez made his international debut for Argentina in 2018 but has gone on to firmly establish himself as a first choice player, with 40 caps to his name and 21 international goals, and Scaloni spoke of his importance.

“He was and is fundamental, he is a precious boy for us. He gave us so much both in terms of football, with goals, and in the human aspect,” the former Lazio and Atalanta defender claimed.

“From when we arrived we knew that he would be our striker, with Sergio Aguero, who initially would have helped him.

“He was already doing very well at Inter and we were certain that with his youth, his desire and all the football knowledge has has, he would have been fundamental for us.

“We really owe him a lot because he gave his all to us and to the caus. He came to the national team even when he wasn’t in the best conditions, he wanted to come, he wanted to be there. He is an example.”

Argentina’s coaching set-up includes a former Inter player in ex-defender Walter Samuel, and Scaloni recalled their friendship since coming through at Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario.

“He is a friend of a lifetime, we must have been nine or 10 years old, he lived in the town near mine, he would pick me up and we would go to train together at Newell’s.

“He was amongst the best defenders in the world and has the same way of understanding life as I do, but focusing on of the group”.

Argentina have not suffered defeat since a 2-0 loss to Brazil in the semi-final of the 2019 Copa America, and are just one undefeated match away from levelling Italy’s record of 37, set by Roberto Mancini.

“It’s just a number, nothing more. We didn’t deserve to lose against Brazil, we could have lost other games. The statistics are there to be surpassed and they are worth nothing to me.

“We’re fine but we’re certainly not invincible, even less so in a World Cup. I appreciate two things: first, it is difficult to beat this Argentina, second, this team has made inroads with the people,” Scaloni argued.

“A great chemistry has been created between players, fans, coaches and directors and it will remain, however the World Cup goes.

“It’s a very treacherous competition, the best team doesn’t always win. But we know what we want and how we want to play,” he concluded.