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16 November 2020

When Javier Mascherano faced Cristiano Ronaldo at the Tournament

After seventeen long and beautiful years as a footballer, Javier Mascherano has announced his retirement. The Argentinian puts an end to a sumptuous and victorious career on three continents, under the colours of huge clubs. A long journey that began on the Maurice Revello Tournament pitches, and especially with a thrilling confrontation with Cristiano Ronaldo. Flashback.

Cristiano Ronaldo against Javier Mascherano. Undoubtedly one of the greatest moments in the history of the Maurice Revello Tournament. Before facing each other in numerous Clasicos in Spain, the two men crossed paths for the first time in France, during the Festival International Espoirs 2003. That year, Portugal won the competition. But it's the Argentinean who distinguished himself the most. Named best player of the competition, Javier Mascherano was just 19 years old at the time. The midfielder, who scored a goal in the group round, was a technical and visionary player.

At the time, Mascherano was playing for River Plate. After two seasons with the northern Buenos Aires club and one in Brazil with Corinthians, he took his chance and left for Europe in 2006, where he embarked on a successful career. After a short stint at West Ham, Mascherano joined Liverpool in 2007 and finally became the player to watch. With a flawless mind and a delightful technique, he asserts himself as one of the key players of the Reds. Enough to catch the eye of FC Barcelona, who recruited him in 2010 and gradually turned him into a central defender. With the Catalan club, he won seventeen trophies, including two Champions Leagues and four La Liga titles. With 136 games played, he is also the second most-capped player in the history of the Albiceleste, with whom he won two Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008.

But let's get back to the matter at hand by taking a leap fifteen years back in time. June 2003. The Maurice Revello Tournament celebrates its 31st edition with an exceptional line-up: Italy, Mexico, England, Colombia, Japan, Turkey, Poland, Burkina Faso, Portugal and Argentina. Within these last two nations, two young players do not yet know each other but will become football stars years later: Cristiano Ronaldo and Javier Mascherano. At the time, the two young men were only 18 and 19 years old and were still unknown. The Portuguese played for Sporting Lisbon, while the Argentinian was just starting out at River Plate. Both of them were called-up to participate in the Festival as international U21. They will meet there for the first time in their careers. Placed in group B, they are facing England, Japan and Turkey in an extremely tough group of five teams.

Javier Mascherano against England during the Maurice Revello Tournament 2003

Named best player of the Tournament

Alongside other future internationals such as Raul Meireles, Danny or Hugo Almeida, Cristiano Ronaldo and his team made a perfect start to the competition by beating England thanks in particular to a goal from the current Juventus player (3-0). For their part, Argentina also secured their first game by beating Japan thanks to a goal from... Javier Mascherano. Exempted for the second day, the Lusitanians saw their Argentinian counterparts beat England (8-0).

Then came the matchday three on  the 15 June 2003. The Portugal-Argentina clash. Ronaldo and Mascherano were both starting. The stakes were high: by winning, the Albiceleste could secure the qualification for the next round. For their part, the Seleçao must win if they don't want to see their opponent of the day take off in the standings. At Toulon's Stade Mayol, the battle is fierce between the Argentinians, overexcited by their two victories in a row, and the Portuguese, who are forced to get a result. As an illustration of this total commitment, five yellow cards and a red card against the South American Leandro Fernandez were handed out by Mr Malek, the Polish referee for the match.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Javier Mascherano in the background during the Maurice Revello Tournament 2003

Portugal finally emerged victorious in this tough fight on a numerical superiority. Custadio Castro and Luis Lourenço twice gave the Lusitanians a large 3-0 victory that will be decisive for the rest of the competition. Defeated by Japan (0-1) and then victorious over Turkey (2-0), the Portuguese finished level on points with Argentina, who had won their last game against the Turks (2-0). It was therefore on the basis of their particular goal difference and thanks to the direct confrontation they won against the Albiceleste that they qualified for the final.

Cristiano Ronaldo and his team take the victory in the final in front of Italy thanks to Danny and a brace from Joao Paiva (3-1) and lift the trophy for the third time. For their part, Argentina saved the honour and finished in third place after their victory over Mexico in the "small" final (1-0). Javier Mascherano was named as the best player of the competition. The rest will be just as good for the man who would later be nicknamed "El Jefecito". Seventeen years later, it is time for the Little Chef to say goodbye. Not without leaving an indelible trace in the history of football. And of the Tournament. ¡ Gracias y suerte, Javier!

Mathieu Lauricella


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