Barcelona defender Javier Mascherano has announced the 2018 World Cup in Russia will be his final tournament with Argentina.
The 33-year-old started in Argentina’s final World Cup qualifier, a 3-1 win at Ecuador on Tuesday, a result that clinched third place in the CONMEBOL standings and earned the Albiceleste a direct ticket to next year’s event in Russia.
“My cycle with the national team ends in Russia,” Mascherano told TyC Sports. “It’s very clear to me that that will be it. There’s nothing after that.
“I will try in the next six to seven months to prepare myself to be there although the decision is taken by the coach and it will be him [Jorge Sampaoli] to decide whether I go Russia or not.”
Argentina struggled in qualifying and went into Tuesday’s encounter in Quito to guarantee their place for the World Cup.
They fell behind immediately but three goals from Lionel Messi handed the two-time World champions a crucial win.
Mascherano, who has made 139 appearances for Argentina since his debut in 2003, would like to finish his international career with a title.
The veteran has endured heartache with the national team, losing to Germany in extra-time in the World Cup final in Brazil three years ago and also falling in the Copa America finals in 2015 and 2016.
“I don’t have that many things in my life I still want to do,” he said. “Playing in a World Cup and trying to get back to the final is one of them.”
Another player who is hoping to make next year’s World Cup is Fernando Gago, who underwent successful reconstructive ACL surgery on his left knee on Thursday and will have to fight against the clock to make it back in time.
The Boca Juniors captain was making his first international appearance since 2015 and had only been on the pitch six minutes when he got injured in last week’s goalless draw with Peru.
“Fernando Gago’s surgery was complicated because there were two ligaments that were affected,” Doctor Jorge Batista, who performed the two-hour surgery on the 31-year-old midfielder, told Radio Red.
“Fernando wants to be in the Copa Libertadores and wants to have a chance to play at the World Cup.”
Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.