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Los Pumas now focus on knock-out stages

SPOTLIGHT: Argentina is “very hungry” to get back into the World Cup knock-out stages after missing out four years ago, head coach Michael Cheika said on Tuesday.

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The Pumas face a winner-takes-all clash with Japan on Sunday in Nantes with both teams coming into their final Pool D match locked on nine points following victories over Chile and Samoa, and defeats to England.

Second place in the group is up for grabs and a likely quarterfinal against Wales, with England having already secured top spot in the pool.

“Japan were in the quarterfinals in the last World Cup and not us,” said Cheika.

“Our preparation and planning includes all the little details for Sunday.”

Cheika faces a tough selection conundrum ahead of the Brave Blossoms match-up: who to pick at scrumhalf.

Veteran pair Tomas Cubelli and Nicolas Sanchez, both 34, brought dynamism to the Pumas’ game in their historic 59-5 thrashing of minnows Chile – the first World Cup meeting between two South American nations.

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Argentina had been much less impressive in a 10-27 defeat to England and a scrappy 19-10 victory over Samoa with a Gonzalo Bertranou and Santiago Carreras partnership, albeit against considerably tougher opposition.

“We’re very lucky to have two number tens: one with 100 caps for the Pumas (Sanchez) and Santi (Carreras) who is a player who is the future,” added Cheika, the former Australia head coach.

“They’re working a lot together, we’re trying to reach the highest level together.”

Sanchez, who will turn 35 two days before the World Cup final, earned his 100th cap and scored 20 points against Chile.

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That took his tally to 140 points and saw him surpass Gonzalo Quesada (135) as Argentina’s record points scorer at the World Cup.

Argentina has improved markedly since the last tournament in Japan, gaining their first ever victory over New Zealand in 2020 and then last year winning away to the All Blacks for the first time.

They have also won away to England and Australia in that period and in July were a point away from winning away at world champions South Africa.

“We’re progressing well. When I arrived in Argentina in 2022, there were things we wanted to improve on to challenge the best teams,” said the 56-year-old Australian.

“I think we’re doing that. Consistency is the difference between a good and a great team.”

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