Javier Mascherano hopes Leo Messi will be "the best version of himself" at the World Cup, while acknowledging that the Barcelona star sets a standard the rest of the squad must strive to match. Messi is gearing up for what will be his fourth World Cup hoping to improve on the runners-up medal he won in 2014 by inspiring Argentina to glory, and his former Camp Nou colleague Mascherano made no secret of the importance of the five-time Ballon d'Or winner showing his best form.
Mascherano, who has 143 caps for Argentina and won five LaLiga titles alongside Messi at Barcelona before joining Hebei China Fortune, also underlined the strength of Jorge Sampaoli's defence.
Messi makes the team tick
"One wishes for this coming World Cup that Leo can be the best version of himself, because the aspirations of the whole squad depend on this version," Mascherano told The Guardian. "It's clear Leo conditions our collective performance; I hope as his team-mates we can meet his standards. For years the talk has been of Argentina's strong point being the offensive side, the attack and clearly we do have players with immense talent up front. But I think what has made these recent teams so competitive has been the ability to find a defensive equilibrium."
Reflecting on Argentina's journey to the 2014 final under Alejandro Sabella, the 34-year-old pointed to the importance of a clear vision going into the tournament in Russia. Argentina face Iceland in their Group D opener on June 16 with the memory of defeat to Germany in the final four years ago still fresh in their minds.
Argentina have learned from Brazil 2014 experience
"It was a unique experience because we had never lived or experienced anything like what happened in 2014 - it was spectacular," Mascherano continued. "The World Cup itself sets the pace and indicates what we can and can't do: we changed the way we played, the system, as we went along, but always with total clarity about what we were doing. That was what led us to the final. The conviction of our idea, of doing things in a certain way, up to the very last minute. And if you look back I think it was Argentina’s best match in years."
Read the full interview with Javier Mascherano here: