Argentina's Javier Mascherano announced his retirement from international football last night, in what may be the first of a series of mass departures following the nation’s disastrous World Cup campaign.
Mascherano, 34, whose 145 caps make him his nation’s most-capped player, has been central to attempts in Russia to wrest control of the team from coach Jorge Sampaoli, whom the established players have little trust in. Yet his own performances have been poor.
‘For me now it’s over,’ he said after the 4-3 defeat by France. ‘From now on I’m just one more Argentina fan. It’s time to support from outside. I hope that in the future these boys can achieve something.’
Lionel Messi, who quit international football in 2016 before a change of heart, may well follow Mascherano. Mascherano made it clear last night that the No 10 and captain is considering walking away. ‘The day that Messi will not play for Argentina you will understand how great this player is,’ Mascherano said. Lucas Biglia, the AC Milan midfielder, is also stepping down and the future of Angel di Maria is equally in doubt.
Sampaoli’s 14-month tenure seems doomed, though while attempting to gloss over a pitiful defensive display, he declared last night that he wanted time to decide on his future. At a punishing press conference, in which it was put to him that Argentina had suffered their ‘worst defeat this century’, Sampaoli said: ‘For me, the fact of being here and being where I want to be makes me not decide what I want to do.’
The former Chile coach avoided any mention of the defensive failings which allowed Kylian Mbappe to register his arrival on the world stage with two goals. Sampaoli described the four-minute period in which Mbappe scored twice, to overturn Argentina’s 2-1 lead, as ‘a very strange play’, declaring: ‘We were maybe not precise. We will be able to analyse this later.’
Mbappe, asked if his performance could lead to him being considered a world-class player, said: ‘Of course. In the World Cup, you have the top players so it’s a chance to show what you can do.’
Asked to compare Mbappe with the Brazilian Ronaldo, France manager Didier Deschamps said: ‘I think he is even quicker.’