Indispensable Mascherano wasted in Barcelona role

The Rio Report

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They are almost there. Argentina are a step closer to ensuring Brazil’s worst nightmare becomes a reality.

They managed to overcome a determined Netherlands side to secure a place in the World Cup final against Germany on Sunday at the Maracana. Beat Germany, which will be no mean feat, and Brazil will have to endure the ignominy of seeing their fiercest rivals collect football’s greatest prize in their own backyard.

Sergio Romero will likely receive the plaudits for getting Argentina there. He did, to be fair, save two penalties in the shoot-out that Argentina won 4-2.

However, the game’s most telling intervention came in the 90th minute of the game. Arjen Robben exchanged passes with Wesley Sneijder on the edge of the box to bear down on the goal of Romero. The scene was set: after and hour-and-a-half of pretty turgid football, one decisive swing of the Bayern man’s leg would send the Dutch into a consecutive final.

The swing of the foot came but it was not decisive. For Javier Mascherano came marauding across the box to expertly slide in and avert the danger. The game went to extra-time and penalties. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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Only history will probably not recount the fact that it was Mascherano who ensured that it went to extra-time at all. History will only recount the heroics of Romero. It is a recurring narrative for Mascherano - one that has run through this tournament.

For, if Argentina do claim a third world title, it is almost certain that it will be remembered as Messi’s World Cup; the moment he joined the pantheon of greats by dragging an average Argentina team to an improbable win.

That fact does a huge disservice to this Argentina team and in particular to Mascherano. Yes, this team is built around Messi but, almost more significantly, it is built on Mascherano. However, the lavishly talented Mascherano is used to neglect; always the bridesmaid but never the bride.

At club level, he has been converted into a polished centre-back for Barcelona but this World Cup has once again shown that he is an almost peerless midfielder and certainly a uniquely talented one.

He patrols the middle of midfield with a calm assurance that belies his bullish exterior. A player blessed with both technical excellence and a predator-like ability to snuff out danger. He breaks play up before promptly setting in motion Argentine counters.

His importance to Messi cannot be under-estimated. It his ability to recycle the ball that could be the difference between Germany and Argentina in the final. Messi is Argentina’s most important player but Mascherano is as indispensable to their cause. Lose him and they lose their structure. He is that important.

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Argentina are yet to go behind at this World Cup and they will need to keep that record if they are to overcome the Germans. It may not be the popular view but if Argentina claim a third World Cup it will be as much down to Mascherano’s brilliance as to Messi’s.

Mascherano, alas, will not receive those plaudits. This has always felt like Messi’s World Cup.

The best ‘plaudit’ that Mascherano can hope for? Well, that his performances in Brazil persuade Barcelona to abandon this ridiculous notion that he should continue at centre-back. Mascherano is one of the best central midfield players in the world.

He is indispensable for Argentina and, given the chance, he can become indispensable for Barcelona there too. Otherwise it is a heinous waste of talent.

Marcus Foley

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