Viña del Mar (Chile), June 19 (IANS) Defender Javier Mascherano admits teammate Lionel Messi’s fine form at the Copa America football tournament has come as no surprise to him. It’s “almost normal” for the Argentina captain to be Man of the Match in every game he plays, he insisted.
Messi netted from the penalty spot in Argentina’s tournament opener, a 2-2 draw with Paraguay, while he also played a key role in Tuesday’s crucial 1-0 victory over old enemies Uruguay.
Messi was named man of the match after both encounters, although he refused to accept the award in the first match out of frustration after his team squandered a two-goal lead to settle for the draw.
Mascherano, who plays alongside the four-time Ballon d’Or winner for club and country, has learned to expect greatness from Messi, whether he is protected by referees or not.
“When he plays it’s almost normal that he is the Man of the Match,” the versatile midfielder was quoted as saying by Italian daily Gazzetta dello Sport on Thursday.
“He’s in great form and has so much desire to do well in a tournament that is not easy to win. Here, the referees are lenient. The challenges and the contact are greater.”
“So it’s tough to still stand out the way Leo does – more so than in Europe,” he added.
Argentina remain favourites to triumph in the tournament being held in Chile but Mascherano is taking nothing for granted, particularly as the Copa has had plenty of shock results thus far.
The 31-year-old insists they will remain completely focused as they bid to end their 22-year wait for an international title.
“Balance is the first word that comes to mind when thinking about the tournament,” he said.
“Venezuela surprised Colombia, we were held by Paraguay. South American football is difficult. We know that from the World Cup qualifiers and the Copa reflects that.”
“Even if you have great players, it’s never easy to make the difference. For our part, we just want to maintain our style, try to play football, but we must be clear in our heads that when we have to fight, we will do so,” Mascherano opined.
Argentina can clinch top spot in Group B by beating Jamaica in its final fixture on Saturday.