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The Argentina midfielder was immense in defence and as much a part of their limited attacking as anyone as the Albiceleste edged past Netherlands to reach the final

Perhaps wary of the astonishing humiliation dished out to a Brazil team who failed to turn up on Tuesday, Wednesday’s World Cup semi-final between Netherlands and Argentina was played out between two sides who looked happiest not to take any risks.

With alert defending paramount, there was plenty of pressure on Javier Mascherano to keep up his magnificent start to the tournament – and he played his part in taking the Albiceleste to the final...

PERFORMANCE AGAINST NETHERLANDS

There were not a lot of things to enjoy about the 120 minutes of dull fare served up by two of the last three teams left in the World Cup but Mascherano was still the standout.

It was an immensely impressive performance from a man who should really have been substituted for his own safety after a clash of heads in the first half left him stumbling and dazed but the Argentina star insisted on carrying on.

The knock had little effect on him as he continued to make insightful forward passes from the base of midfield and dropped back into defence when needed to allow the full-backs to push forward.

Though a Philipp Lahm tackle from the night before was immediately hailed as the best challenge of the World Cup, Mascherano even gave the German a run for his money with a match-saving block to shut down Arjen Robben late in normal time. The Dutch winger had broken through the Argentine back line for the first real time but, from somewhere, the midfielder found a burst of pace to chase him down and steer the ball away from his feet just at the moment of shooting.

HE'D BE PERFECT FOR...

Though he turned 30 in the early stages of this tournament, Mascherano is certainly quite capable of remaining at the top of his game for at least until the next World Cup and, as such, would be a fine buy for a great many teams.

That would be more certain if, as he deserves, he is allowed to play in his more natural defensive midfield position rather than as a flat central defender and all sorts of teams could benefit from his influence there.

Manchester United are an obvious candidate when mentioning such a position, Mascherano’s quality not lost on Louis van Gaal as his time as Netherlands coach came to an end in Sao Paulo.

With Arsenal still missing an out-and-out defensive central midfielder, the Argentina man would be most welcome at the Emirates Stadium, though a return to Liverpool seems less appropriate now that the Reds have re-purposed Steven Gerrard as a regista.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

The overwhelming likelihood is that Mascherano will be going nowhere, however. While there had been whispers of interest over the past year or so, the Barca star signed a new four-year contract at Camp Nou before the World Cup.

Whether he will get to play in midfield is another issue as, after the retirement of Carles Puyol, Los Cules need centre-backs more than ever, but the spectre of a transfer ban hanging over the Catalan club’s heads makes them understandably keen to keep hold of their players.

No doubt that he can continue to have a huge impact at Camp Nou, then, on this evidence. With his buyout clause now set at €100 million [£79.5m], it would take an awful lot to stop him from doing so.



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