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By ESPN Staff

Mascherano unlikely to feature against Liege

Javier Mascherano is unlikely to be involved in Liverpool's Champions League crunch tie against Standard Liege on Wednesday.

Mascherano led Argentina to a second consecutive Olympic title in Beijing after his country retained their crown by beating Nigeria in the football final and he is heading back to Merseyside after his triumph.

The 24-year-old midfielder was due to leave China at the weekend, but boss Rafael Benitez does not think he will be prepared enough to face the Belgian champions at Anfield in the third qualifying round, second-leg tie.

The match is poised at 0-0 after Liverpool's alarmingly poor performance a fortnight ago in the first leg in Belgium.

The Reds stand on the brink of losing a minimum of £10million prize money from UEFA if they fail to qualify for the group stages.

Benitez said: 'Javier will be back with us soon. But I do not think he will be in contention to play in Europe.

'He has spent too much time travelling and playing, that makes it difficult to be at your best.

'The same thing applied to Ryan Babel. He returned from China last week after Holland were knocked out, but I only really considered him as a substitute at the weekend.'

Babel came on for the final 25 minutes of Saturday's 2-1 home win over Middlesbrough, but looked short of fitness.

Brazilian midfielder Lucas has also returned to Liverpool from the Olympics.

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