Javier Mascherano has called upon his Argentina team-mates to pull together and move forward in the absence of Lionel Messi.
Messi was sidelined for up to eight weeks when he picked up a knee injury in Barcelona’s victory over Las Palmas last month, meaning he has not been included in his national squad for their upcoming World Cup 2018 qualifiers against Ecuador and Paraguay.
His countryman and club-mate Mascherano will subsequently take Argentina’s captain’s armband for those two matches, and he is hoping the team can rally together without their talisman.
“We are going to need more than everyone, but we are missing the most important player that we have. We’ve lost him before and the team responded,” the 31-year-old told reporters upon his arrival in Buenos Aires.
“it’s always important to have Messi. We are not going to have him and it has to be an objective to take a step forward and not an excuse.
“These things happen, we must revoer in the best way and pull forward. We will try to make sure Leo’s absence is not an excuse.”
On the qualification campaign, Mascherano added: “It’s a long road that is going to be difficult, but we hope to do it in the best way.
“The opponents are known to us, but the World Cup qualifiers are more difficult. A good start generates a mood for what comes next. You have to get a cushion of points to create calmness throughout the qualifiers.”