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World Cup 2014 : Messi the star, but Mascherano the beating heart of the Albiceleste

Siladitya Ray, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, July 10, 2014
First Published: 07:43 IST(10/7/2014) | Last Updated: 07:50 IST(10/7/2014)
Argentina have made it through to the World Cup final after an excruciating 24-year wait. All eyes have been on the captain, Lionel Messi, who has put on an exhibition of supreme skill and netted 4 goals.
 
While Messi has worn the captain’s armband, a strong leader has emerged for Argentina in Javier Mascherano.
 
It should come as no surprise that Mascherano has stepped up to become the de facto leader in the dressing room, as he was captain of the side that went to South Africa four years ago.
 
He also led the team to Copa America 2011, but in the quarters against Uruguay he was sent off and he handed over the armband to Messi. Argentina lost that game in a penalty shootout.
 
A close observation of any of Argentina's matches in this tournament will always throw out two things: Messi's sublime artistry with the ball and Mascherano marshalling the troops around the pitch. The defensive midfielder has fired up the Argentinean squad in pursuit of their first world title in 28 years.
 
Mascherano's impact though has not just been limited to firing up the dressing room or calling audibles on the pitch. Mascherano is still probably the best slide tackler in football.
 
His former Barcelona teammate, Cesc Fabregas once said that while most players win games with their dribbling and passing skills, Mascherano could do so with his tackling skills.
 
In the dying minutes of regulation time, Netherlands star Arjen Robben latched on to an exceptional pass and charged towards the goal, he was almost one-on-one with keeper Sergio Romero and certain to score. He took the shot, but in came the slide out of nowhere by Mascherano. The ball clattered into Mascherano’s boot and Argentina could breathe again.
 
According to Argentine newspaper Ole, right before the game against Belgium, Mascherano revved up his teammates, saying, “I am tired of eating shit!” The strong words from the man with two unsuccessful World Cup campaigns behind him found their mark. 
 
Against the Dutch, he was visibly the most vocal during the huddle before the shootout. There was no doubt who was in charge and doing the talking.
 
Captain’s armband or not, Mascherano seems determined to leave his mark on Argentine football by winning the grandest prize of them all.
 
He may not be spoken of in the same breath as Messi or Maradona, but he is doing all the talking on the pitch for a cause.

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