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The strong drink that the best soccer players in the world are drinking in Qatar

DOHA, Qatar — To be fair, yerba mate isn’t for everyone.

It is a strong, often bitter infusion, prepared hot or cold from the leaves of yerba mate, a plant native to South America that it is popular in Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina. Some of the best soccer players in the world come from that region and swear allegiance to it, and have spread it around the world through their teams. However, the World Cup in Qatar posed some logistical and supply challenges, one of which was for yerba mate devotees: where would they find it in the Gulf?

Well, they came prepared. Brazil’s national team, which has some mate drinkers, brought almost 11 kilograms to Qatar, a team official said. The Uruguay team packed around 240 kilograms. But it was Argentina, who will face Croatia in the semifinals on December 13 in hopes of extending their stay until Sunday’s final, that bested them all. To make sure the 75 or so members of their traveling party—players, coaches, trainers, and the rest—had a steady supply of a drink they consider essential, the Argentina team transported a whopping nearly 500 kilograms of yerba mate to Qatar.

“To Unite Us”

“It has caffeine,” said Argentine midfielder Alexis Mac Allister, explaining why he consumed so much. “But I drink it more than anything to unite us.”

A spokesman for the Argentine team, Nicolás Novello, said that the team brought different types to suit all tastes: yerba mate with stem (a milder flavor), without stem (a stronger and more bitter taste) and with herbs (for other flavors). ). Observers said almost everyone, including the team’s star Lionel Messi, drank it; the team’s devotion to drinking was evident every time he got off the bus, and after games, a handful of players brought with them the essentials of traditional mate: a goblet made from a hollowed-out gourd, its accompanying straw, and a thermos of water. hot.

Drinking mate is so commonplace within the Argentine and Uruguayan teams, in particular, that the latter made the thermos, known as Botija, its official mascot. The big blue mascot costume even found its way to Qatar, where it had trouble getting through the turnstiles of the Doha metro system.

“When I played in Argentina, a nutritionist said that mate hydrates you,” said Sebastián Driussi, a midfielder for Major League Soccer’s Austin FC. Driussi represented Argentina internationally at the youth level and spent three years with the popular Argentine club River Plate. “I don’t know, but it’s like water for us. Before a game, in the locker room, everyone drinks it all the time. There is no schedule or bad time to drink mate. We in Argentina say that mate makes friends”.

Juan José Szychowski, president of the National Yerba Mate Institute in Argentina, said that perfecting the brew is an art, as each drinker prefers slightly different variations, from sweet to sour, from hot to cold.

“If you start drinking mate, you won’t stop”, Szychowski said in a telephone interview. “It is more than a habit. When someone comes, we say: ‘You should have some mate.’ It is sharing and something social and good for health”.

Szychowski said the mate, which was originally consumed by the region’s indigenous residents before it was spread by Jesuit missionaries, contains polyphenols, a compound with antioxidant properties. Some studies, he added, have suggested that the drink may have a positive effect on health.

The influence and example of South American mate-drinking players such as Messi, Uruguayan Luis Suárez and Brazilian Neymar, who used to be Barcelona teammates, have led other players to adopt the practice.

Antoine Griezmann, fixed in the France team that will play the semifinals on Wednesday, acquired the habit after befriending the Uruguayans Cristian Rodríguez and José María Giménez when they were teammates at Atlético de Madrid. Griezmann has said that he now drinks it daily. Another French star, Paul Pogba, said in 2018 that he became addicted to mate after one of his Manchester United teammates at the time, Marcos Rojo, an Argentine, gave him some of his own brew.

World Cup fans have a hard time getting Uruguay's mascot into this World Cup, a thermos called

World Cup fans struggle to get Uruguay’s World Cup mascot, a thermos called “Botija,” through a subway turnstile in Doha, Qatar, on Dec. 1, 2022. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

“It’s perfect,” Pogba told an Argentine television channel. “I loved”.

Szychowski called the soccer players the best ambassadors for yerba mate around the world, before noting that Pope Francis, an Argentine, is also known to enjoy the brew.

not all are fans

However, not all gamers are fans of the flavor that some have called too bitter, too grassy, ​​too earthy. (Experts advise beginners to start with a sweet mate.) Walker Zimmerman, defender of the US team that was eliminated from the World Cup in the round of 16, said that years ago two of his Argentine teammates at FC Dallas, Maximiliano Urruti and Mauro Díaz, introduced him to the mate, but he admitted: “I don’t think I’ll ever try it on my own.”

Lisandro López, a former Argentina defender, said not everyone was used to him drinking his mate through a straw when he played in Portugal. “Many times, and I lived in Lisbon for four years, I would go to a square to drink mate and people would look at me strangely, as if I was taking drugs or something,” López said.

Luis Hernández, a former Mexican striker, said his palate couldn’t quite get used to the taste when he spent a season with Boca Juniors in Argentina. While everyone else on the team drank mate, he said, he was the only one who resisted.

“I prefer a good coffee to a cup of mateHernandez said. And he added between laughs: “Do they say that it helps them? But mate doesn’t help you score goals”.

© 2022 The New York Times Company

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