The Argentinian won gold at Athens 2004 and then repeated the feat four years later in Beijing, making him the only double Olympic football champion in history.
In July 2008, Rafael Benitez, the manager of Liverpool FC, had good reason to feel aggrieved. His tough-tackling and dynamic defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano had just been picked to represent Argentina at the Beijing Olympic Games, which meant that he would miss the start of the English football league season. It was a real blow to the ambitions of the big-thinking Premier League club; but for Mascherano it was a no-brainer: “Being able to defend a gold medal is really important for an athlete,” he explained. “This is a chance for me to become the only Argentinian footballer to achieve the Olympic double, and if I do, I’ll go down in history. I want to go to Beijing because nothing means more to me than the Olympic Games and the chance to help my country.”
Make history is exactly what he did. On 23 August, in front of 90,000 spectators in Beijing’s ‘Bird’s Nest’ National Stadium, an Angel Di Maria goal in the 58th minute of the final against Nigeria was enough to secure a 1-0 victory and the gold medal for Argentina. Four years earlier in Athens, the Albiceleste had defeated Paraguay by the same scoreline, this time thanks to an 18th-minute strike from Carlos Tevez. On both occasions Javier Mascherano – the only player to feature in both the 2004 and 2008 finals – cut an impressively influential figure.
Nicknamed “the Little Chief” (“el Jefecito”), Javier Mascherano has been representing his country since he was a teenager, often as captain. A regular at U15, U17, U20 and U23 level, at the age of 18 he was fast-tracked to train with senior Argentina squad during the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan, and went on to win his first full cap in July 2003, in a friendly against neighbours Uruguay, before he had actually played a single senior game for his first club River Plate!
His talent and his die-hard spirit made a big impression on Cesar Luis Menotti, coach of the Argentina team that won the World Cup in 1978. According to Menotti, “Mascherano is an exceptional player, and an icon for the Argentinian people. He always puts the team first, he knows his job and has a vision that is based on collective values.”
Always held in high regard by his coaches, Mascherano has been a first-team regular wherever he has played: at River Plate (Argentina), Corinthians (Brazil), West Ham and Liverpool (England), and latterly with Barcelona (Spain), where he has been converted to a central defensive role. Playing for Liverpool in the 2007 UEFA Champions League final against AC Milan he was named Man of the Match. And after teaming up with compatriot Lionel Messi at Barcelona in 2010, he helped the Catalans embark on an incredible streak which saw them win the Spanish league title, the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA World Club Championship within the space of a single year.
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