Lionel Messi must stay with Argentina despite World Cup exit - Mascherano

Argentina veteran Javier Mascherano urged star Lionel Messi to stay on with the Albiceleste despite Saturday's 4-3 World Cup round of 16 loss to France.

Messi, who turned 31 during his fourth and possibly final World Cup, set up a pair of goals, but again failed to score in a knockout match at the biggest event in soccer. He did not speak to the media following the loss.

And while his teammates, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia, both announced their retirement from international duty, Messi had no comment. In 2016, after Argentina's shocking Copa America loss to Chile, the Barcelona star told reporters his international playing days were over, although he changed his mind less than two months later.

Mascherano encouraged Messi, with whom he played at Barcelona over eight seasons, to avoid making any rash decisions this time around, despite the disappointment he might feel. Saturday marked the firs time Argentina had scored three goals in a competitive match and lost. For Messi, it meant he still has never won a major international title with Argentina.

"I hope that Messi has the desire to remain with the national team and I hope everyone leaves him alone," the 34-year-old said. "No one in international football feels the kind of pressure that Argentine players feel and I think we dealt with it pretty well. But now, Messi needs to remain calm. He should go on vacation with his family and he should keep playing football because the day that Messi decides not to play, we are all going to find out what a great player he really is."

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Argentina got their goals from Angel Di Maria, Gabriel Mercado and late substitute Sergio Aguero. Messi set up the latter two, first sending a shot on goal that Mercado deflected into the net in the 48th. With time winding down, Messi gave Argentina a bit of hope with a cross to the left that Aguero headed into goal in stoppage time.

Aguero admitted he, like Messi, was faced with the same question about his own retirement, but said he would stay on as long as the Argentina federation kept calling him back.

"Obviously, this World Cup saw us at the perfect age, but now we know that there are younger players in my position who have great promise," the Manchester City forward said. "I always give my best at my club. But I feel like as long as the coach, Jorge [Sampaoli] or another, need me I will be available. But it is clear that due to my age that there will always be younger players to consider. I understand that."

Aguero said that the pressure was greatest for Messi.

"We are all hurting, especially Leo. He is, for sure, the one who is the most hurt because all the pressure is on him each time the national team plays," Aguero said. "When we lose like this, there just isn't much to say. We simply have to thank the fans who came here for their support."

Meanwhile Gabriel Mercado said a "very sad" Argentina had trouble recovering from France's second goal as they lost 4-3 to Les Bleus in the World Cup round of 16 on Saturday.

Defender Mercado gave his side a brief lead in the second half before a wonder strike from Benjamin Pavard levelled.

Argentina then conceded two quick goals to Kylian Mbappe, and Mercado said Pavard's strike had unsettled them.

"The reality is that we are very sad," he told FIFAtv. "We couldn't advance, that was the only thing we wanted.

"We put forth this enormous effort in the first half, despite the fact that we didn't play well, but we found a way to score that second goal. After that, the match became very difficult."

Mercado said Pavard's goal "came so fast and didn't give us much time to recover and get back on defence," adding: "Our dream was to reach the final and we could not do that.

"I would like to thank all of our fans who made such an enormous effort to be here and support us. It was a great match, well fought against a great team."