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May 30, 2017

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Midfield general Mascherano makes final dream a reality

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Argentina had to rely upon their leader and Barcelona star to squeeze past the Netherlands and reach their first World Cup final for 24 years, but it wasn't the one they expected.

Javier Mascherano continued his fine World Cup with a last-ditch tackle deep into stoppage time to prevent Arjen Robben's goalbound effort from breaking the deadlock before Argentina prevailed on penalties.

"It was more my job. When Robben took a heavy touch, he lost a second, and I was able to make the challenge. I did what anyone would have done," Mascherano argued modestly afterwards.

Whilst four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi carries the armband and provides the stardust, Mascherano is the heart and soul of this Argentina side.

If Messi leads by his example, Mascherano is the vocal leader. The latest example of that coming before the penalty shootout against the Dutch when "the little chief" could be seen telling goalkeeper Sergio Romero, "tonight you become a hero in Argentina."

Romero went onto make the two crucial saves in the shootout.

Mascherano had been captain at the last World Cup under Diego Maradona, who claimed after taking the job his side would be "Mascherano and 10 more."

And with the current Argentinian side on the verge of emulating his achievements of winning the World Cup in 1986, it was Mascherano not Messi who earned the plaudits of Maradona.

"When I said it was Mascherano and 10 more, they laughed," he said on Wednesday.

"Now they can not laugh. The example on the pitch is Mascherano. Everyone follows his rhythm so they cannot score against us."

Score against them is what no one has managed to do in the knockout phase and Argentina had battled their way to the final in a way no one expected.

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