Javier Mascherano says he hopes Argentinta “never” have to play without Lionel Messi after La Albiceleste secured a late 1-0 over Russia in a friendly on Saturday.
Sergio Aguero scored the only goal with a header in the 85th minute, while Messi nearly beat Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev with a clever flick.
Last month, Messi’s hat trick heroics helped Argentina secure their World Cup spot on the final day of CONMEBOL qualifying, and Mascherano said he was particularly grateful that Messi has returned to the fold following a brief retirement from international duty last year.
“I hope we never end up without Messi,” the defender after Saturday’s game. “These games are important so the coach can look at other players too, however.
“We all played with intensity and took the match seriously.”
Messi, who will sit out Tuesday’s friendly against Nigeria, said the victory was a good test ahead of their return to Russia next year, adding: “We want to get to the World Cup in the best shape.”
Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli said he witnessed a good omen after his Argentina side “dominated” Russia, despite the slim scoreline.
The Argentinian mission next summer is to go one better than in 2014, where they were defeated by Germany in the Rio final, and head coach Sampaoli believes his men are on the right track.
“We passed well on the opponent’s pitch, the opponent had practically no chances to score,” Sampaoli said. “We missed chances we had, but we dominated most of the game and enjoyed a high output.
“We are moving forward as a group ahead of the challenges to come We have to continue down this path.
“There was more vertical play with ‘Papu’ Gomez next to [Angel] Di Maria, interesting movements between Aguero and Messi, many movements on the wings.”
Aguero’s goal took him level with Hernan Crespo for third place on the list of Argentina’s all-time goal scorers, and Sampaoli sung his striker’s praises.
“He read and understood the match very well in a few places,” Sampaoli said. “He had a couple of shots in the first half and another three in the second, one of which was a goal.”
Russia boss Stanislav Cherchesov had some reason to be cheerful as the likes of Dmitry Poloz and Denis Glushakov came close to scoring at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
At his postmatch news conference he said: “We knew it would be a difficult match, that we would not own the ball or have the initiative.
“I think the opponent was stronger than us and there are some more difficult matches waiting for us. We must learn how to endure and win when we’re placed in such situations.”
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