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Argentina 'must take chance in Brazil'

Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano is aiming to end 24 years of Albiceleste pain in Wednesday's semi-final against the Netherlands

Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano says he and his teammates are aware of but not weighed down by the pressure of their country's first World Cup semifinal in 24 years.

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Saturday's narrow 1-0 quarterfinal defeat of Belgium has sent the Albiceleste through to face Netherlands in Wednesday's last four game in Sao Paulo.

This has led to growing euphoria in Argentina, as the national side have not reached this stage of the competition since Italia 1990, when a team including Diego Maradona and many other winners of four years previously lost a controversial final 1-0 to West Germany.

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The Barcelona player, who has a vocal leadership role for the team both on and off the pitch, said in Ole that he and his colleagues must now take advantage of their opportunity and go still further.

"We must hold onto the dream we have because we have taken Argentina to a place it has not been for a long time," Mascherano said. "These chances happen very few times, and we must take advantage of this. It is 24 years since we played this game and we have the good fortune to be part of this milestone, but it has just raised the expectations of the fans. Fate will decide where we end up at this World Cup."

Mascherano said that spirits in the camp were now really high and confident, with the only low-point the muscle injury which looks set to rule Real Madrid midfielder Angel Di Maria out of the rest of the competition.

"The group is very happy," he said. "Apart from what has happened with Angel, which is a pity, the feelings are the best. To be in such a decisive phase is a situation we are very excited about. We know that on Wednesday we will have a great chance and we will do our best to go through. We want to do everything possible to be at the Maracana [for the final] on July 13."

The former Liverpool player said he expected Netherlands would sit back and play on the break during Wednesday's semifinal.

"We know we are going to play against a team which is among the best at counter-attacking, for the speed of their men up front," he said. "We are taking on a team with experience, who have a lot of hunger after being finalists in the last World Cup. We are not expecting an easy game. It will be even more difficult than Belgium, due to their players and experience."

The ability of Lionel Messi and quarterfinal goal scorer Gonzalo Higuain to hold the ball in attack had been crucial to helping relieve pressure on the defence against Belgium, Mascherano said.

"The team has improved," he said. "Leo and 'Pipa' [Higuain] gave us life when they held onto the ball. This gives air to the midfielders and gave us more possession, which was important in the game."


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