Nigeria vs Argentina: Mascherano Reveals His Understanding Of Nigeria Team
Nigeria vs Argentina: Mascherano Reveals His Understanding Of Nigeria Team

Nigeria vs Argentina: Mascherano Reveals His Understanding Of Nigeria Team

Javier Mascherano has always placed the needs of the Argentinian national team ahead of his personal desires. Consequently, he has refused to get involved in speculation about whether or not the Group D match against Nigeria at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia will be his last at international level.

“I’ve not thought about that,” the long-serving 34-year-old said in an interview, with the decisive duel with the dangerous African side fast approaching. “I’d rather think about what we can achieve and try to do my best so that things turn out well. After that, fate will decide how our story ends.”

While Argentina’s 3-0 reverse at the hands of Croatia – their worst group-stage defeat since Czechoslovakia beat them 6-1 at Sweden 1958 – was tough to take for Mascherano and Co, it did provide some valuable lessons for the final group game.

“There’s no doubt that, until Croatia’s first goal, the match was pretty even,” noted the most capped player in the history of La Albiceleste. “But then we lost our shape and organisation, and we ended up looking quite bad. That’s what was most worrying.”

He continued: “We obviously know that results can vary and you often don’t get what you deserve, like in our match with Iceland. But to lose our shape like that – that’s not right. That’s something we’ll need to assess properly, because it can’t happen to us again.”

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In addition, Mascherano has not appreciated how Lionel Messi has borne the brunt of the criticism of Argentina’s performances. “The team is frustrated, not Leo. Let’s not put all the blame on him,” he said calmly.

“We’re frustrated that things haven’t gone our way, but we have to accept that and try to get out of this situation we’re in. We have to be able to overcome such difficulties. We can’t just let things happen to us and then give up the chase. It’s an internal struggle that we need to win.”

In order to extend their stay in Russia, the Argentinians must defeat Nigeria in Saint Petersburg, as a draw or a loss would see them eliminated from the competition.

“Nigeria have some really useful players,” said the former Barcelona man. “We saw in their match with Iceland that they were under quite a bit of pressure in the first half. But they withstood it and, in the second half, they put in their best performance at this World Cup.”

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What are the keys to the match? “We mustn’t give them any space,” he explained. “When they have space, they can really do you damage, because they’re extremely physical and fast. We need to keep a lid on those aspects to restrict them, and make the most of any chances we get.”

Once again, Mascherano was unwilling to ruminate on a potential premature elimination that would signal the end of his long and notable international career, but he did agree, as he concluded the interview, that Tuesday’s match represents a pivotal moment for him and his team-mates.

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“I’m not going to waste any energy thinking about that,” said the San Lorenzo-born grafter. “I’d prefer to concentrate on what we can do now to avoid getting to that point. On Tuesday evening we’ll analyse our result, and we’ll either start talking about our Round-of-16 opponents, or about how our run has come to an end.”