"For me, the idea of an Argentine shirt is — sweat for it, sacrifice for it, be professional, be close to your teammates. And the footballer who comes closest to this is Masche (Javier Mascherano). Masche is my captain and I shall have ten other guys with him in my team."
Lionel Messi (left) with Javier Mascherano
These were Diego Maradona's words back when he was the coach of Argentina.
The match against Iran was the 100th occasion that Mascherano turned up in a sky blue and white striped shirt. Only Zavier Zanetti (145), Roberto Ayala (115) and Diego Simeone (106) are ahead of him now.
The 30-year-old defensive midfielder was turned to a central defender by Pep Guardiola after being signed from Liverpool. The late Tito Vilanova and Tata Martino tried to follow the same in Barcelona without much success though.
But the decision to sign him is paying dividends for Argentina, rather than Barcelona! The bond between Messi and Mascherano has since grown in such a way that even when Messi was declared as the captain by coach Alejandro Sabella, Mascherano, the dethroned captain, was the first one to welcome it gladly.
This was a welcome change considering the problems Argentina had when Daniel Pasarella was dislodged as captain by Diego Maradona. Pasarella, Argentina's World Cup winning captain, left the team hotel in Mexico in 1986 to return home in retaliation.
Mascherano has found it easier to cope with Messi's superstar status because of his proximity with the superstar at Camp Nou, which could never happen earlier between Pasarella and Maradona for they represented Fiorentina and Napoli respectively, before 1986.
Messi and Mascherano brought Argentina to Brazil together, navigating the most dangerous qualifying phase in South America without any problems. Now they are in the second round thanks to Messi scoring two goals in two games for Argentina.
However, the most comforting thing for him is not that he is finally performing for Argentina, it is the knowledge that he has the complete backing of his former captain Mascherano!
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