Mascherano Mocking The Concept Of A 'One-Man Team'

Argentina have been dismissed as a one-man team, but that does an ignorant disservice to the contributions of Javier Mascherano. He's been absolutely superb...

Last Updated: 05/07/14 at 19:46 Post Comment

Latest Articles

Time For Van Gaal's Tactical Nous To Prevail

Post comment

Injuries have afforded Louis van Gaal an excuse for Man United's slow start but, with a number of players expected to return against Everton, the manager needs a big performance...

Football Making A Fool Of The Business Genius

6 comments

By all accounts, Mike Ashley has a Midas touch when it comes to the huge success of his Sports Direct empire. But football often doesn't have time for business sense...

All Articles

This was still not an entirely commanding display in the manner of which many may have expected (or hoped) from Argentina, but the end result will still be intensely pleasing for followers of La Albiceleste. After two consecutive quarter-final defeats to European opposition, this was a case of third time lucky - Argentina have made the final four of the competition for the first time since 1990. They are now the favourites to win the World Cup in the back yard of their bitterest rivals.

"We still haven't got started," were the critical words of Diego Maradona in the build-up to the tie against Belgium, but Argentina got busy as soon as referee Nicola Rizzoli had started the match. Gonzalo Higuain's early rifled finish (his first of the tournament) continued the trend of early quarter-final goals, and from that moment on Alejandro Sabella's side carried out an efficient containing job on their stifled opponents.

Maradona's other criticism of Sabella's side until now had been a reliance on their captain, creator and finisher. "They need to get it into their heads that we can't be Sporting Messi," Diego remarked in typically pithy fashion, and it will have pleased both the legend and all Argentina supporters immensely to see a previously under par Higuain share the goalscoring burden.

That is not to say that the Argentinian magician of this generation demonstrated anything but his almost continuous brilliant best. After the close attention paid by Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami in the previous round, Messi appeared to have more space in which to dribble at Belgium's defence - perhaps that was merely as a result of Marouane Fellaini being asked to single-handedly deal with the danger. It was a striking mismatch, and Messi's pass to Angel di Maria for his first-half chance was a flash of the sublime in an already majestic performance.

However, the foolishness of Maradona's accusation that Argentina are a one-man team was highlighted by another imperious performance from Messi's club team-mate and close friend Javier Mascherano. In a tournament dominated by the brilliance of no. 10s and central defenders, Mascherano might just be the midfielder of this World Cup.

There is a sense that Mascherano was perhaps slightly underrated before this tournament, or at least passing somewhat under the radar. The long-term injury sustained by Carles Puyol forced the Argentinean into a central defensive role at Barcelona and, although his form never let his side down, his lack of dynamism in midfield often left Barca short in that area. With Ezequiel Garay, Martin Demichelis and Federico Fernandez vying for two positions at international level, Mascherano is able to step forward and do what he does best. His excellence has been notable.

Mascherano's game can effectively be broken down into two distinct facets. Firstly, this is a player that thrives on tackling, revelling in halting the progress of opposition midfielders. No player in this World Cup has made more tackles per game, and yet he has committed just four fouls in five matches - impressive discipline from a player who gained a reputation for being hot-headed when in the Premier League.

However, this is not simply a destroyer. No other player in the competition has made more passes than Mascherano, and a completion rate of 92% demonstrates a significant ability to both retain possession and act as the catalyst for Argentina attacks. He made more passes per game in the group stage than Andrea Pirlo, and the Italian's success rate was just fractionally higher. That's indicative of a player performing a dual role for his side, a hugely useful asset to have.

Rather than taking our Argentinian soundbites from rent-a-quote Maradona therefore, we should perhaps instead look to the midweek words of former international Claudio Caniggia. "What Mascherano is doing is sensational," Caniggia told Mundo Deportivo. "He is fundamental, almost the continuation of the coach on the pitch."

Against Belgium, Mascherano was almost faultless, dealing with almost embarrassing ease with the presence of Kevin de Bruyne, and neutralising the threat of Eden Hazard whenever he drifted infield. Mascherano acted as a calming influence, crucial in helping his more inexperienced compatriots (Fernando Gago, Lucas Biglia and Enzo Perez, who replaced the injured Di Maria) to nullify any sniff of a Belgian comeback. After six late goals in four matches, there was to be no late gift for Marc Wilmots' side. In truth, Belgium have largely flattered to deceive throughout this competition - despite the hype, they will not be sorely missed.

Inevitably, it will be Messi and the seemingly rejuvenated Higuain who take the headlines. Football has an engrained obsession with the finisher and creator, whilst those carrying out the less glamourous tasks are perennially ignored.

But if Argentina win this World Cup, one suspects Messi will thank his friend and colleague for his hard work and determination.

If Leo is the swan on the water, ever graceful and elegant, Mascherano acts as the leg, hidden from view but driving things forward. This is a vital cog in Argentina's machine, making a mockery of the label of 'one man team'.

Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter

I'm sure Daniel Storey doesn't decide on the headlines, but it was another of 365's writers that (lazily) simply put 'Messi' under 'why they'll win it', in Football365's Guide To The Final Eight piece? (http://www.football365.com/f365-features/9370247/Football365-s-Guide-To-The-Final-Eight) Is it Watson then that we're referring to as 'bloody foolish'?
- keybo83

Football365 Facebook Fan Page

The Football365 fan page is a great place to meet like minded people, have football related discussions and make new friends.

Most Commented

Readers' Comments

I

put Ince in my fantasy football team, so it's no surprise at all really. I do that to players. Also responsible for De Jong and Upson being injured. Think I'll transfer in Di Maria just to ruin United....

megabrow (cufc)
F365's Top Ten Surprise Strugglers

L

ovren? £20m always seemed a touch on the expensive side, but I wasn't expecting him to be quite such a waste of money

stevenjameshyde
F365's Top Ten Surprise Strugglers

H

alf of our players have the physical presence of a 14 year old girl. I don't know why people are always shocked that they're injured.

TheWhiz
Wenger baffled by injuries

Latest Photos

Footer 365

Premier League: Arsene Wenger says Olivier Giroud's new contract is 'done deal'

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says a new contract for French striker Olivier Giroud is a 'done deal'.

Champions League: Arsenal's Jack Wilshere trains ahead of clash with Galatasaray

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere has trained ahead of Wednesday's Champions League clash with Galatasaray at the Emirates.

Premier League: Alan Pardew's job as Newcastle manager remains safe for now

Sky sources understand that Alan Pardew’s job as manager of Newcastle United remains safe for the time being.

Mail Box

#Usingfootballersnamesineverydaylife

We have the last of these as well as mails on Liverpool, Wayne Rooney, QPR, Arsenal's injuries and more. It's a mailbox that's Alonso rather than Rafael, if you will...

How Much In 'Pounds Raheem Sterling'?

A whole lot of you use footballers' names in everyday life. And you hate yourselves for it. As you should. We also have mails on Newcastle, Rooney and more...

© 2014 British Sky Broadcasting Ltd. All Rights Reserved A Sky Sports Digital Media property