No pain no gain for Mascherano
Javier Mascherano suffered a painful and highly embarrassing injury to keep Argentina's World Cup dreams alive.
Argentina made it through to Sunday's World Cup final thanks to a 4-2 penalty shootout win over Holland in Sao Paulo on Wednesday night.
Argentina barely gave Holland a sniff of goal all night until the 90th minute when Arjen Robben latched onto Wesley Sneijder's flick and bore down on goal.
Luckily for Argentina, Mascherano put in a sliding tackle to block the winger's shot.
The match-saving interception came at a painful price though. Mascherano bent over in pain and afterwards he told reporters why.
"I stretched my anus on that move," the Argentina midfielder said.
"The pain... it was terrible.
"I thought I wouldn't make it. I thought he'd get ahead of me, I thought of so many things, but I did get there.
"I threw myself into it. I could have been sent off. It could have been a penalty.
"But anyone could have done that, I had the luck to get there."
Mascherano was just being modest. There was no luck about it. It was a perfectly-timed tackle.
That last-gasp interception for Argentina summed up Mascherano's contribution to Argentina at this World Cup.
He may be the wrong side of 30, but Mascherano has fought tirelessly for Alejandro Sabella and his team-mates in Brazil.
As a result, he was overcome by exhaustion and emotion as he burst into tears at the final whistle in Sao Paulo.
"I cried at the end because I have spent a lot of time waiting for this moment," said Mascherano, who is Argentina's vice-captain.
"This is my third World Cup and maybe my last one.
"It's a delight to be in the final, a delight that lifts your soul.
"It's something you can't explain, it's something I never imagined would happen.
"And I know the people at home will be happy because two generations could not see Argentina in the final of a World Cup, they can see us there now so we are happy for that."
Mascherano has not always had things his way.
When he landed in England eight years ago, Mascherano was expected to be a star at West Ham.
But while compatriot Carlos Tevez quickly became a fans' favourite, Mascherano was left out of the first team, with the unheralded Hayden Mullins preferred instead.
"I always work hard and when I couldn't play at West Ham I kept that mentality," the 30-year-old added.
"I wanted to train every day to be a better player. I didn't have the chance to play in the games in which I wanted to play but in football you always have a chance and when I went to Liverpool I had my chance to show my quality."
Since leaving West Ham, Mascherano has contested two Champions League finals - winning one - and he also has two Primera Division winner's medals. He has also won the Olympics twice with Argentina.
So while Mullins is gearing up for a pre-season campaign with Notts County, Mascherano is busy plotting how to win a World Cup final in the Maracana.
After watching Germany hammer Brazil 7-1 in the semi-final, Mascherano knows Argentina will have to work hard to win their first World Cup since 1986.
But that does not mean the midfielder is pessimistic about his team's chances.
"I don't fear losing," he said.
"We know it is going to be difficult because they are a big team, a formidable team, but we will give everything we have got just like we did (against Holland).
"I hope we can win on Sunday. I think the only thing we have to avoid is thinking about the scale of the situation."
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