Captaining Argentina is a beautiful challenge: Mascherano

March 6th, 2009 - 12:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Madrid, March 6 (DPA) Responsibility appears to be Javier Mascherano’s key motivating element, and commitment his main tool on and off the pitch as the midfielder looks ahead optimistically to a new era for the Argentine national football team, under new coach Diego Maradona.
“The national team captaincy is a beautiful challenge. The fact that Maradona thought of me represents an unforgettable pride in my career,” the Liverpool midfielder told DPA.

Argentina are set to make their official debut under national football legend Maradona March 28 against Venezuela in Buenos Aires, in a South American qualifier for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

However, the Maradona era has already started, and it did so on a winning note. Scotland and the more prestigious France fell victims to an Argentina side that still showed some tactical mistakes, alongside a radical change of character as compared to the end of the reign of former coach Alfio Basile.

“The next two games are the most important of what lies ahead of us in the qualifiers. We are very excited about being able to finally start playing for points, and the games against Venezuela and Bolivia are set to be a major measurement of where we stand. We have a lot of confidence.”

Argentina’s irregular performances in the most recent qualifiers appear to have been left behind. Mascherano, 24, hopes his team can qualify for the World Cup, and despite a difficult schedule for 2009 - in which they will have to play away against qualifying round leader Paraguay, and both Bolivia and Ecuador at high altitude - he underlines Argentina’s ambitions.

“We are convinced that we can qualify for the World Cup. We are going to fight very hard to be able to make it and we have a good enough team to be able to get among the top teams in the table. If we have confidence in our game, we will be able to achieve our goal.”

“In any case, these qualifiers are showing that everyone is wrong when they say that Brazil and Argentina simply qualify. Paraguay are playing a spectacular tournament, and Chile showed great play in many matches.”

Mascherano does not know how Maradona is set to plan the game against Venezuela, but he is glad to see that new ground rules have been laid with regard to attitude and that the new group is obsessed with winning every game.

“I think the most outstanding thing since Diego arrived is the change in the team’s mentality. We want to go out and eat up our rivals. He prepares us for every game as if we were about to play the world Cup final, and that is very positive for players.”

“I still do not know how the next two games will be approached, but what I can say for sure is that the team will give everything. Even if it is winning by two goals. The fact of defending the colours on this shirt is a very great responsibility,” Mascherano said.

Since Maradona took over as coach, the midfield pairing of Mascherano and Real Madrid’s Fernando Gago has surprised many.

“I feel very comfortable playing with Fernando. I think we complement each other well in most situations of play, and although we have to improve some aspects, we enjoy ourselves very much when we are on the pitch together. Besides, we have a good relationship off the pitch, which is very important.”

As the formal start of Maradona’s time as national team coach approaches, so does the captaincy of one of the symbols of the Argentina squad.

“Playing for Argentina is something unique and it will always make me happy. That is never going to change,” Mascherano stressed.

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