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RIO DE JANEIRO – Javier Mascherano will find out Thursday if he has been cleared to play for Argentina in Sunday's World Cup final against Germany following a sickening clash of heads during Wednesday's semifinal victory over the Netherlands.
Mascherano collided with Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and slumped to the ground in the first half Wednesday. Video replays sparked speculation that he had suffered a concussion given his dazed reaction after stumbling over while clutching his forehead.
After only a cursory exam on the pitch and a couple of minutes' rest, Mascherano returned to the pitch at Arena de Sao Paulo and completed the remainder of the 120 minutes. He was outstanding for the rest of the game as Argentina went on to win 4-2 on penalty kicks, and he may have saved the Argentines with a brilliant block to deny Arjen Robben in the final moments of regulation time.
Mascherano was examined by the team doctor after the match and was due to be attended to again on Thursday.
"They will tell me if everything is OK," Mascherano said. "I am sure I am OK. I am fine. It is good. I could feel it during the match, a little bit. I had a bit of a headache but now it is good."
FIFA has come under fire for its approach toward concussions during the tournament.
Soccer's governing body generally has stringent codes protecting player safety but has been accused of being less than comprehensive when it comes to head injuries and collisions. Its policy, for example, falls far short of the NFL's concussion protocols, which stipulate that players must be taken out of a game if they show any concussive symptoms.
"With concussions, it could take hours or even days for problems to develop," Michael Kaplen, an attorney specializing in brain injuries, told the New York Daily News. "When in doubt, keep them out – that is the mantra."
The first serious suspected concussion of the tournament came during Uruguay's victory over England in the group stage when Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Pereira fell to the ground after taking a heavy blow to the head. Pereira looked highly unsteady on his feet but was allowed to return to the game after waving off attempts to substitute him.
The handling of that situation left FIFPro, soccer's international players' union, outraged. The organization urged for an overhaul of soccer's official regulations and for serious measures to be put into place to prevent players from any further head trauma.
"Medical evidence shows that a person faces the risk of very serious brain injury, or worse, if he or she suffers a severe head trauma from a concussive blow," a recent FIFPro statement read.
The union wants "urgent talks" with FIFA and is promoting a rule change that would allow temporary substitutions to replace stricken players while they are evaluated and monitored. It's a move that would facilitate sensible analysis of the situation without leaving a team at a disadvantage.