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Football brought them face to face for the first time when they were both just 17 years old, when Javier Mascherano played for River Plate and Tévez for Boca Juniors. Later they would face each other in the Superclásicos, as the derby between Argentina’s two most popular teams is known. Products of the best youth football systems in the country, their friendship was born in the Argentina national team. It is a friendship that goes back more than a decade.
One of the most memorable duels between the two occurred in May of 2004, when River and Boca faced off in the semi-finals of Copa Libertadores. Tevez’s Boca ended up qualifying for the final after winning a penalty shootout over Mascherano’s River.
The U-17 national team
Their friendship began when they were both part of the under-17 Argentina national team. Their relationship was forged between gruelling workouts, while sipping yerba mate and telling jokes. Later they would both form part of the under-20 team that competed in the South American championships disputed in Uruguay and, together, they also won the Gold medal of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. As the years passed they would add strength the Argentina national team where they’ve been teammates for a decade. They both played in the 2006 World Cup in Germany and in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, as well as the 2007 Copa America.
Rivals in Argentina, the Brazilian First Division club Corinthians, controlled by the Iranian Kia Joorabchian — a close partner of Roman Abramovich — paid around 12.5 million euros for Mascherano and approximately 17 million euros for Tévez, with the promise that a year later they would be transferred to a European club. Tévez landed first and was followed by Mascherano six months later. Together they helped get Corinthians win the Brasileirao 2005. Those were also years for personal maturity — they both started families with whom they’ve shared many great moments outside the lines.
In 2006, the year of the World Cup, the two friends were sent to Europe where both the midfielder and the striker signed for West Ham in the Premier League. The English team was the last place where they would play together, following a negative experience for Mascherano, who was unable to curry favour with his coach and played only five games all season. It was undoubtedly the worst experience of his career.
Mascherano was able to survive the indifference of his coach, thanks to the support of his friend Tévez, along with that of Mascherano’s family. After six months he was shipped to Liverpool, where he’d get the playing time needed to be ready for the 2006 World Cup. Tévez, meanwhile, stayed with West Ham for six more months, where he helped lead the team in their struggle to avoid relegation, which they achieved on the final day of the season. Following the season Tévez was sent to Manchester United. The two friends had gone their separate ways, and they would only play together again for Argentina.
Mascherano became a key player for Liverpool under head coach Rafa Benítez, and despite not winning any titles with The Reds, the Argentinian ended up playing four and a half years at Anfield. Tévez, meanwhile, won six trophies with Manchester United, including the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup in just two seasons. That was the beginning of what would become a three-year rivalry between the two compatriots in the English Premier League.
Tévez then moved cross-town to Manchester City in 2010, while Mascherano made the jump to FC Barcelona. The relationship between the two was hampered by distance, travel, and because Tévez was cast aside during Alejandro Sabella’s stint as head coach of Argentina.
The 2015 UEFA Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Juventus will bring Mascherano and Tévez face to face once again, a reminder of some of the memorable duels back in Argentina between River Plate and Boca Juniors. Regardless of the outcome, when the final whistle signals the end of the game, their rivalry will turn back to friendship. They’ll have a word with each other out on the pitch and then refocus on a common goal — to win this summer’s 2015 Copa América in Chile.
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