“Sneijder produced the moment of magic, Robben ran to cast a spell, but the number 14 of Argentina broke the spell”

After the night of national tragedy at the Estadio Mineirao, where the Germans shot 7 times in the Brazilian net, the local and global Brazilian fans sat down to witness the clash between Argentina and Holland at the Arena Corinthians – the eyes still swollen and red, heart and mind not working at all and the limbs had not started to work fully.

There is no secret regarding the rivalries between Brazil and Argentina and certain always bitterness exists – surely, the Brazilian fans were rooting for the Dutch – one of the most exciting sides of World Cup 2014 and deserved to feature in the finals – because neither they wanted to witness Argentina lift the trophy nor were they excited enough to witness Lionel Messi smile on the Brazilian soil.

This is the reality of both Brazil and Argentine fans during any major tournaments, international friendlies, and club competitions – one does not wish the other to gain the upper-hand, but as the hype and tension start to fade, the respect for the legends and competent performers always remains high.

The semifinal clash produced a poor quality of football in 90 minutes and progressed into extra-time.

Late in the extra-time, Wesley Sneijder produced a moment of magic by scripting a delicate pass outweighing the two Argentine markers – the ball rolled on the feet of dynamic Arjen Robben, who was not given enough space by Alejandro Sabella because he kept his full-backs extremely deep.

But that Sneijder delicacy brought the best out from Robben, who, immediately spilled-opened the Argentine defence and was well poised to break the deadlock.

But he was followed by the Argentine jersey number 14, who produced one of the most decisive moments in the history of World Cup – a life-saving tackle was essayed on the lush green pitch of Arena Corinthians to deny the free-flowing and threatening run of Robben.

Sneijder produced the moment of magic, Robben ran to cast a spell, but the number 14 of Argentina broke the spell.

That tackle was a reminiscence of that memorable tackle in March 2011 during the Champions League clash against Arsenal where they had not had a shot on target when Jack Wilshere put Bendtner one-on-one with Victor Valdes. Score and Arsenal would go through; Barcelona would be out. Bendtner took a touch, a little wide, and from nowhere a figure slid past and took the ball from him. That figure tackled, Arsenal went out.

Similarly, that tackle saved Argentina against Holland and Albiceleste featured in the finals after a penalty shootout.

Lionel Messi hogged the limelight.

And, everyone forgot the number 14 – Javier Mascherano.

Such has been the life of Mascherano as a footballer.

One can consider himself as one of the unsung warriors of football, who never gave anything less than 100% to lift the spirits of the limelight hijackers.

On that night at the Arena Corinthians, Holland engaged Nigel de Jong to shut down Messi and they were successful. Meanwhile, Lucas Biglia was always tracked by either Wesley Sneijder or Georginio Wijnaldum, while Javier Mascherano found space only in deeper positions, close to his center-backs. The number 14 was not only shielding the Argentina defence, but was playing the role of a playmaker as well – He played some intelligent balls into Holland’s left-back position, because Van Gaal’s use of a back three, in combination with a strict man-marking system, meant Argentina found space in that zone.

The ball was rolled down to Lavezzi, who tried to pressurize, but not quite effectively.

His constant defensive and creative role from the base of the midfield proved vital in 2014, where Argentina looked extremely mediocre, but still, managed to sneak through to the finals, but Mario Gotze denied them from the ultimate glory.

Back in West ham, Liverpool, and Barcelona; Mascherano remained impactful. Especially, during his time in Camp Nou, there would always be talk about Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta; but hardly anyone gave Mascherano his due credit. He had been their center-back, man-marker, defensive and creative midfielder.

The Argentine arrived in Barcelona in the 2010-11 season and was quite a controversial signing at the time.

The club urgently needed a quality center-back to rest Pique and Carlos Puyol. Meanwhile, the departure of Rafa Marquez in that summer further supported this decision to bring in a new defender. Instead of bringing a player from this position, though, the club signed Mascherano.

During that period, Mascherano was playing as a holding midfielder in Anfield, and in World Cup 2010, he led Argentina from the same position. Instead of Marquez’s replacement, he seemed like a substitute for Yaya Toure, who also departed to Manchester City that summer.

It was a time when Pep Guardiola had revolutionized Barcelona – their rhythmic display with short but fast passing left the opponents clueless and thus, the kind of football Mascherano plays, the signing was not welcomed by many, but few could realize the qualities of this warrior.

In Camp Nou, his impact could be felt in every match. He became one of Guardiola’s brains in the midfield who had the vision to dictate the game and step up to marshal the game when the chips were down.

Guardiola said, “I would never ever sell him and I wouldn’t swap him for anyone. I never expected him to give us as much as he has: his value is unimaginable. He has been spectacular as a player and a person. Javier Mascherano is the best signing this club has made in four years.”

Dani Alves said, “Mascherano. He has a spectacular view of football. Whenever I talk to him, he tells me something new; he notices things you don’t. He really understands the game.”

Mascherano was like a soldier. Those who love to follow football closely fell in love with the character of this tough nut from Argentina.

The intensity and grit achieve his goals, the constant fight with himself to end up becoming an important player. He knew every match was the opportunity to peak himself up. If he had to sacrifice his physical condition to avoid a goal, he did it, because for him the play did not end until it was over. His toughness and physique allowed him to fight against the biggest beasts in football. He wasn’t afraid, and he could face anyone.


Indeed, Mascherano was a warrior – the warrior, which the Albiceleste and Barcelona always miss.


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