The Rio Report

Argentina showing the mettle that will win them the World Cup

The Rio Report

View photo

.

As the Argentina squad joyously ran towards Sergio Romero, and Leo Messi emotionally let it all out, there was one player conspicuously left at the centre circle following the squad's penalty shoot-out victory.

Javier Mascherano had sunk to his knees, as if overcome by the moment rather than energised by it. It was the only time that could have been said on the night, in what was a masterclass by the defensive midfielder against the Netherlands.

It was also quite an image, but not the only one like it. Alejandro Sabella described Mascherano himself as “a symbol, an emblem”.

[MASCHERANO WASTED IN BARCA ROLE]

He certainly symbolises what this team has become. If Messi remains Argentina’s best player, Mascherano best reflects their resilience, their doggedness. It could be the difference on Sunday. It certainly was in Sao Paulo.

You only have to consider his key contributions on the night, and what they meant.

Most crucially, there was the last-minute last-ditch challenge on Arjen Robben, just as the Dutch forward seemed set to finish Argentina’s World Cup for good.

Most evocatively, after the game itself had finished 0-0, there was the moment just before the penalty shoot-out. With the majority of the Argentina squad walking around anxiously, Mascherano displayed no such hesitation and wanted to ensure his goalkeeper didn’t either.

[SEVEN TRUTHS: MASCHERANO UP FOR GOLDEN BALL]

The midfielder grabbed Romero, went in close, and declared: “Tonight, you make yourself a hero.”

Romero duly did so. The penalties of Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder were kept out, Argentina went through.

[PAPER ROUND: PATH CLEAR FOR UNITED TO SIGN SNEIJDER]

That it came down to the goalkeeper and a shoot-out is arguably something of an indictment for Argentina, especially after Germany had been so sensationally brilliant in embarrassing Brazil 7-1.

It also, however, displays one of their more intangible qualities. This team have an extraordinary capacity to dig in, to abrasively and aggressively refuse to be beaten.

[OVERREACTION THEATRE: WHAT'S THE POINT WITHOUT GOALS?]

Mascherano is key to setting that mood, but even people like Romero perpetuate it.

You only have to look his recent career in the context of the night and the rest of the squad.

The goalkeeper has just endured a dreadful season on loan at Monaco, where he has barely played, and there was significant doubt before the World Cup over whether he would make Alejandro Sabella’s line-up.

He did more than that. He laid the path to the final with those remarkable saves.

[TWO DUTCH PLAYERS REFUSED TO TAKE FIRST PENALTY]

That is itself further reflective of the side’s resilience. In a team of so many stars, it is someone who has struggled in their club career who stood up. Similarly, on another night when that fearsome forward line failed to fire, the back-up cast showed the necessary spark.

There’s been a phrase around the Argentinian camp that sums it up. The “fantastic four” - Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria - have become “11 warriors”.

Romero summed it up.

“We’ve grown a lot,” the goalkeeper said afterwards, clutching the match ball that had been given to him as a gift. From the first game [of this World Cup], there’s been criticism and the team has changed. The team puts their lives onto that pitch, they kill for each other.

“That’s important. We’re a group. You can see it on the pitch. Everyone runs for everyone on the pitch.”

That is difficult to dispute, but it should only add to the debate ahead of the final.

While Germany are probably the better team, there isn’t the same sense as against Brazil that, if Jogi Loew’s team play to their level, they will win.

[EPIC SAO PAULO DIRGE LEAVES GERMANS FAVOURITES TO WIN WORLD CUP]

It isn’t that simple. Argentina’s abrasive aggression is well capable of complicating things, regardless of how the Germans perform.

Sabella's side have an extraordinary durability, as displayed by the manner in which they’ve made it to the Maracana.

Argentina have now endured a penalty shoot-out and five separate one-goal wins. In those victories, two of the goals came in the final moments, with one in stoppage time and another three minutes from the end of extra-time.

Those strike may not have seen Argentina to kick on in the manner they might have, but did give them to belief to dig their heels in, no matter what is happening in a match.

Mascherano proves that more than anyone. He also ensures so many others follow.

It may yet deliver the trophy.

Miguel Delaney is in Brazil and covering the World Cup finals for us - you can find him on Twitter @MiguelDelaney

View Comments (48)
Fantasy Premier League