analysis | 2015-06-15
Messi and Mascherano in the Copa América
Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano - The heartbeat of Argentina
Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano seek to end Argentina’s trophy drought dating back to 1993 at the Copa América. Last year’s World Cup in Brazil showed just how important these two players are for Argentina. Lionel Messi drove Argentina’s attack while Javier Mascherano in midfield made life easier for the defenders behind him.
Just under a year after the heartbreaking final in Rio, the Barcelona duo will get a chance at lifting South America’s biggest prize. For Mascherano, this is his fourth Copa América after taking part in the 2004, 2007 and 2011 editions. For the magical number 10, it will be his third. And we all know what they say about the third time.
In 2004, Mascherano took part in two tournaments for his country. The first was the Copa América which was held in Peru and the second was the Olympic games in Athens where he won his first of two Olympic Gold medals (his second coming with Messi in 2008 at the Beijing games). The 2004 edition saw Argentina reach the finals against perpetual rivals Brazil, coming within seconds of a Copa win but falling to a last-second goal which took the match to penalty kicks that Argentina ultimately lost.
The 2007 Copa América saw a breakout performance from Messi. Involved in several goals in a star-studded team, Messi and Mascherano made the final of that Copa America in Venezuela but just like in 2004, they lost to Brazil.
The year 2011 had both Messi and Mascherano coming off a season double, winning the league and Champions League with Barcelona. The Copa for that year was held in Argentina and was seen as the perfect chance for the hosts to end their trophy drought. Unfortunately, they met neighbors Uruguay with an in-form Luis Suárez in the quarterfinals. Mascherano was sent off in that match that went to penalty kicks. While Lionel Messi was the first for Argentina to score, it wasn’t meant to be as they lost to Suárez’s team who would go on to lift the trophy.
This current edition is held in Chile and on paper, Argentina are the strongest team in the tournament. Former Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino is spoiled when it comes to the names available on the team. Ángel Di María, Sergio Agüero, Javier Pastore, Nicolás Otamendi... the list goes on and on. But recent times have shown that when the going gets tough, it’s the two captains on the team who carry the country on their backs.
Two very different personalities who play in vastly different positions, but funnily enough share a goalscoring statistic: Javier Mascherano has scored the same amount of goals as Lionel Messi at the Copa América. Crazy to think that Mascherano found the back of the net the exact same number of times as the goal machine Lionel Messi before this year's tournament, but it’s true! Mascherano's first goal for Argentina came against Paraguay at the 2007 Copa América. His was the only one of the match as Argentina won 1-0.
For Lionel, just like Javier, both his Copa América goals came in the 2007 edition. Messi’s first came in that 4-0 win against Peru while his second was a beautiful chip from a fair distance against Mexico in the semifinals. Sadly for Messi (and Mascherano), he didn’t manage to score a single goal in 2011.
This time around, Argentina are drawn into Group B. Their opening match against Paraguay on Saturday ended 2-2 after some questionable decisions by Gerardo Martino. Their second match will be against a Suárez-less Uruguay on Tuesday, June 16 before closing the group on Saturday, June 20 against Jamaica.
While Mascherano is still very much the same warrior from 2011, Messi has done a lot of maturing since that penalty shootout loss to Uruguay. He took on the role of captain, his mentality has changed and added a lot more to his repertoire. Many believe that it’s the last opportunity for this strong generation of Argentine players to lift a trophy. And there would be no better way to end the 2015 Copa América for Argentina than with Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano lifting the trophy.
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