Argentina and FC Barcelona star Javier Mascherano called for calm on Wednesday as the countdown to this weekend’s Copa America final against fierce rivals Chile got under way.
Two teams desperate to succeed will collide in Santiago on Saturday with hosts Chile aiming to end nearly a century of failure by winning a major tournament for the first time in front of an expectant home crowd.
Argentina meanwhile are burning with desire to win a first title in 22 years, determined that one of the most talented generations of players the country has ever produced does not suffer another disappointment.
The high stakes will carry an additional edge thanks to the historical rivalry between the neighboring nations, who in the past have been at loggerheads over various territorial and diplomatic disputes.
But the FC Barcelona man was adamant that politics should not poison what is expected to be a highly charged sporting encounter.
“I hope that people can understand that football is a sport, not war,” Mascherano said.
“The past is the past. We must not put sport in the middle of politics. Chile and Argentina are brother countries, we have to show mutual respect,” the defensive midfielder added.
“If we stoop to aggression and violence, we lose that message of respect. Sport is about trying to be healthy and having fun, not a war.”
Mascherano’s words were echoed by Chile defender Eugenio Mena.
“Everyone’s going to be watching this final so it’s important that the two teams show respect,” Mena said.
Argentina set the stage for Saturday’s showpiece with a scintillating display to destroy Paraguay 6-1 in Tuesday’s semi-final, with skipper Lionel Messi producing a virtuoso individual performance.
Chile defender Jose Rojas said his team-mates would need to raise their performance against Argentina.
“They are one of the best teams in the world, there is no doubt about that,” Rojas said.
“But being the favourites doesn’t guarantee anything. We are playing at home, with our people behind us, and we have something to say.”
Rojas also urged Chile to give their all against the Argentines.
“You have to throw all the meat on the grill,” Rojas said.
“Argentina is strong but nothing is impossible. We have hunger and desire to achieve something important for our country.”