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Mascherano to quit Argentina after World Cup, weighing up Barca future

ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti believes Jorge Sampaoli will employ his experience and make Argentina a force at Russia 2018.
Jorge Sampaoli says he gets emotional coaching Lionel Messi, whom he calls the best player in history.
Max Bretos and Herculez Gomez evaluate Lionel Messi's impact on Argentina's qualification for the World Cup.
After Ecuador scored in the first minute, Lionel Messi took over and scored three goals to punch Argentina's World Cup ticket.

Javier Mascherano has announced the 2018 World Cup in Russia will be his final tournament with Argentina, while he has also said this could be his last season with Barcelona.

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."

Javier Mascherano in action for Argentina against Peru.
Javier Mascherano has been a regular with Argentina for over a decade.

With Barcelona, Mascherano has started just four of the last nine games since the Spanish Super Cup and has seen his place taken alongside Gerard Pique in the big games by Samuel Umtiti, who joined the club from Lyon last year.

"There will be time for me to think [about my future]," Mascherano said. "I'm playing less for my club right now because there are two better centre-backs. I will try to fight for my place and to be ready when I'm called upon.

"When you have someone better ahead of you, you accept it and try to turn the situation around. I'm not a player that gets angry, especially not with coaches. I still have a contract with the club and they have shown they are happy with me, but I haven't spoken with anyone yet. Perhaps at the end of this season, I'll analyse what to do."

Mascherano joined Barcelona from Liverpool in 2011, initially as a midfielder, but went on to become the long-term replacement for Carles Puyol in the middle of the back four. He has started at least 20 La Liga games in each of the last six seasons, is well-liked among the squad and has a contract with the club until 2019.

If Mascherano does leave Barcelona, he told ESPN FC in an exclusive interview in the summer that he would explore a number of options, including Major League Soccer, before eventually moving into coaching, something he has already started working towards.

Meanwhile, another player who is hoping to make next year's World Cup with Argentina 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.

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