JAVIER MASCHERANO is desperate to make it third time lucky after the heartbreak of losing TWO cup finals last year.
First, the Liverpool hard-man suffered the agony of seeing AC Milan lift the Champions League trophy in Athens last May.
And a month later he was collecting a runners-up medal again — this time in Venezuela, after Brazil had dumped his Argentina side in the Copa America final.
Now the midfielder wants to put the record straight — and the next few days will decide whether he remains on course for glory or faces another season of misery.
The Reds enter a do-or-die week when they take on Barnsley in Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash at Anfield.
That will be followed by their Champions League last-16 first-leg showdown against Inter Milan at the San Siro. And Mascherano is desperate to be able to look back on both competitions with fond memories.
He said: “When you lose any final, it’s painful.
“But suffering defeat in such a massive game as the Champions League or Copa America last year was really hard to take.
“Even when I was back in South America I always watched the European Cup games and loved it.
“It’s the most important title you can win in club football and we were so close to doing it.
“This time, winning one would be really nice.
“Hopefully, it will happen this season in the Champions League or FA Cup because I don’t want another silver medal — I prefer gold!”
Mascherano’s action-man displays in anchoring the Reds’ midfield have made him a cult figure at Anfield but landed him with in hot water with referees too often for comfort.
In just over 12 months on Merseyside the Argie has picked up 11 bookings. He even admits it is a side to his game which does concern him.
He added: “In England, you have to be tougher.
“The teams are more physical and harder, especially in midfield and there are plenty of tackles flying in. That’s how I like to play and it suits me.
“But in the Champions League, I get booked too often. It doesn’t seem to happen too much in other games.
“That means I have to be a bit more careful but I’ll still always make the tackles I have to. That’s my job and I’m more than happy to do it.
“I just love playing in these big cup games with Liverpool. I went from not playing at West Ham to being involved in some huge occasions.
“It doesn’t get any better than this. Hopefully, there are a few more great days and nights around the corner.
“I’m glad I came to England. When a footballer comes to the Premier League he automatically turns into a superior footballer.
“I’m a much more simple player now. I’ve understood that if I don’t pass within one or two touches I get closed down.
“Football is so physical here — the quicker I get rid of the ball the less I get knocked around!
“I pass and move and only get involved in a clash with another player when it’s absolutely necessary.”
Mascherano, 23, aims to secure a permanent move to Liverpool in the near future.
The Reds have already verbally agreed a four-year contract with him.
And the 20-cap star added: “The sooner things get sorted out with Liverpool the better.
“I want to be settled and kill myself on the pitch so the team wins lots of games.”