Set to represent Argentina at his fourth World Cup, Javier Mascherano has said that his nation's successes in Russia will depend heavily on the form of talisman Lionel Messi.
He told the Guardian: “One wishes for this coming World Cup that Leo [Messi] can be the best version of himself, because the aspirations of the whole squad depend on this version.
"It’s clear Leo conditions our collective performance; I hope as his team‑mates we can meet his standards.”
As his country's most-capped player and one of the oldest members of the squad, Mascherano is an experienced head that commands respect in the team.
The former Liverpool player spoke candidly of the difficulties he was conscious Argentina would face in Russia, given their struggles in qualifying - relying on results on the final day - and off-field problems domestically.
“We were so close to the edge…one match away from not qualifying for the World Cup.
“Those of us who have been around for some time have seen the good times and the bad, facing up to the task and doing what’s needed along the way…luckily we’ve come through.”
Naturally, the 34-year-old is rooting for his country and teammates as he walks out with the side this summer, but he is being a realist too about their chances.
Mascherano sees the group Argentina has been drawn in (Group D) as a tough group, describing the challenges faced against each opposition.
Iceland, he saw as difficult, given their sudden emergence on the international stage and their Euro 2016 success, whilst Croatia's midfield prowess posed a major challenge in Mascherano's mind.
Nigeria, a common World Cup opposition for the defensive-minded player, caused problems of their own through their disorganisation, which in itself threatened to disorganise your own team - "and that’s when teams like ours suffer the most – in disorder” he explained.
Rather than proclaim Argentina will be victorious this summer - even if that is likely his aim in what will undoubtedly be his final World Cup - he offered a measured view of what Jorge Sampaoli's side can achieve in Russia.
“This is football: one day you win, one day you lose and there’s a very fine line between them.”
The 2010 World Cup defeat to Germany in the quarter-finals was apparently a moment of enormous sadness for Mascherano and his teammates, given their ambitions had been far greater during the tournament.
By contrast at the time, however, the Argentine was thoroughly enjoying his domestic football: “Playing in England was a fantastic experience. In Liverpool I felt at home and really thoroughly enjoyed it. That’s the truth.
"The kudos and hierarchy of playing in the Premier League for a footballer is huge.”