Netherlands vs Argentina comment World Cup 2014: Javier Mascherano shakes clear his head to keep on the track of Arjen Robben’s tricks

Midfielder appeared to be concussed in first half

He may not have been as badly stunned as Uruguay’s Alvaro Pereira was against England, but Javier Mascherano did not appear fit to continue for Argentina after taking a blow to the head in the first half of last night’s World Cup semi-final.

Netherlands vs Argentina - as it happened

The former Liverpool midfielder looked as if he could have been back in Anfield for all he knew of it as he was led from the field by medics.

Referee Cuneyt Cakir had immediately called for assistance after Mascherano hit the ground hard following a clash of heads with the Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum. However, after briefly lying prone on the ground, Mascherano was helped to his feet, but not before a healing stroke on the head from team captain and talisman Lionel Messi. The four-time Ballon D’Or winner’s magic touch does not, however, extend to his feet and Mascherano’s confused expression as he left the field had Cakir’s rugby equivalent, Nigel Owens, asking what action if any the Turkish official could take.

“I wonder if football referees have the same power as us rugby referees to prevent a player taking further part in the game on safety grounds,” tweeted the Welsh union referee, echoing the sentiments of a nation becoming more and more concerned by the long-term implications of concussion injuries, particularly in rugby union.

 

The sight of the 30-year-old running alongside the referee, nagging him, may or may not have put Owens’ fears to rest, but the Barcelona man did appear back to his old self, which was just as well, given his integral role in Alejandro Sabella’s plan for the containment of Arjen Robben.

Much as he does at Barcelona, Mascherano fulfils a libero role for Argentina – taking the ball from the central defenders, stepping into their place should they advance and, crucially, offering a third dimension to the harassing of Robben.

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With the Bayern Munich man on the right wing, he had Marcos Rojo for company and the industrious Ezequiel Lavezzi in front of him whenever the Dutch had possession, and should the ball find its way to Robben, Mascherano was invariably on hand to close all remaining avenues. The Dutch wingman was limited to a single completed pass in the first 45 minutes.

Argentina did not need a troop of scouts to single out Robben as the Netherlands’ greatest attacking threat. Despite not scoring since the second group game against Australia the 30-year-old has been a menace in every match. The fear he generates is well-placed. Almost 95 per cent of Robben’s shots thus far have been on target and the prospect of him finding Robin van Persie with crosses provoked four Costa Rican defenders into bookable offences in their quarter-final.

Argentina were never likely to adopt as conservative an approach as the Central American surprise packages, who deployed a solid bank of five at the back to contain the Dutch, but on the eve of last night’s semi-final Martin Demichelis seemed to advocate some of Costa Rica’s more agricultural Robben-stopping methods.

“Because he doesn’t like physical contact, you have to make him feel it,” Demichelis explained. “You have to get under his skin.”

Argentina’s defensive ploy, and it seemed a solid one, was to prevent Robben, the fastest man on the clock at this World Cup, from getting get one-on-one with the Manchester City defender, who was burned for pace by Phil Bardsley for Sunderland’s goal in the 1-0 defeat at the Stadium of Light in November.

The one time the Netherlands managed to isolate the pair early in the second half Demichelis picked up a booking to stop the dangerman.

Robben’s reaction to the tackle was suitably dramatic, of course, and in stark contrast to that of the dazed and confused Mascherano, who was determined nor to leave the winger unattended.

That proved important, as a superb, stretching tackle from the Argentina midfielder denied Robben in the penalty area in the final minute of regular time and brought extra time

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