Sao Paulo: So far, Javier Mascherano has won two Olympic gold medals, appeared at three World Cups and amassed more than 100 caps for Argentina, having made his debut before he had even appeared in the domestic top flight for his club River Plate.
Lionel Messi may wear the captain’s armband in coach Alejandro Sabella’s ensemble, but Mascherano is the team’s spiritual leader. His tears flowed again after Argentina’s quarter-final victory over Belgium, but this time around, they were only of joy. The nation had reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in 24 years.
“We’ve been fighting for this for so long and now we’ve done it,” Mascherano told the FIFA website.
“Of course, we’re delighted, but we need to turn that into confidence and get our strength back quickly. We need to remember that we’re one match away from playing in a World Cup Final and we haven’t yet made history.”
Mascherano, who was eliminated with Argentina in the quarter finals both at Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010, has played all 480 minutes for his country in Brazil so far, successfully completing 406 passes and winning back possession 37 times.
It is, therefore, hardly surprising that he is a fan favourite with supporters in his homeland. “I try to stick to my principles every time I go out onto the pitch,” he said.
Talking about Argentina’s semi-final clash with the Netherlands on Wednesday, Mascherano said: “There’s a traditional rivalry (between the two countries).
The central midfielder still vividly remembers the Dutch victory over Argentina in the 1998 quarter finals, when Dennis Bergkamp scored a breathtaking winner. “I was at home watching it on television and just as disappointed as everyone else,” Mascherano said.
“This Dutch team has got a lot of experience and they’re hungry for success after losing the Final in 2010. So, we’ll have to be on our guard. We’re excited and we feel strong. We know we can put in another good performance.
“We’re in a place where Argentina hasn’t been for a long time. These opportunities come only so often and you can’t let them go by.”
Mascherano is also aware of the vital role Messi has in the side, commenting: “Leo has rescued us in a few matches, but we can’t just rely on him. The team should be there to support him just as we were against Belgium, when he controlled the game with everyone’s help.”