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Argentina v Bolivia: Mascherano backs 'very special' Messi

Javier Mascherano has praised the way Lionel Messi handles the pressure of a nation's expectations as Argentina prepare to take on Bolivia in Houston.

Friday's international friendly will be Argentina's first outing since they lost on penalties to Chile in the Copa America final in July.

That defeat, following on from the disappointment of losing to Germany in the World Cup final 12 months earlier, led to Barcelona superstar Messi coming under fire for his inability to lead his national team to a major trophy.

However, Messi has a strong ally in Mascherano, who feels his club-mate copes admirably with life in a goldfish bowl, particularly as he waits to become a father for the second time.

"Messi does not hide and never shies away from criticism," the midfielder told TyCSports.

"I would hate to be Messi. He is something very special. He keeps coming [to the national team] even when he is about to be a father.

"We are football players who want to offer the most we can. We are honest and try to do it the best way."

Mascherano and Messi are both part of Argentina's 24-man squad for the first of two friendlies on American soil in the space of four days. After going up against Bolivia, Gerardo Martino's side head to Dallas to take on Mexico.

Martino is without the services of Angel di Maria, who has been allowed to remain with Paris Saint-Germain to work on his fitness, as well as injured trio Pablo Zabaleta, Javier Pastore and Lucas Biglia.

Atletico Madrid forward Angel Correa, Benfica's Nicolas Gaitan, San Lorenzo defender Emmanuel Mas and River Plate's Matias Kranevitter have been called up to fill the gaps.

Bolivia, meanwhile, will be playing their first game under new coach Julio Cesar Baldivieso.

Mauricio Soria was in charge when the side reached the quarter-finals of the Copa America, but was sacked after falling out with the Bolivian FA.

After a failed attempt to bring back Soria, Baldivies was given the job. 

Goalkeeper Romel Quinonez is absent due to a hand injury, but strikers Rodrigo Ramallo and Gilbert Alvarez have been called up.

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