Mascherano talks on hold
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Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano's contract negotiations are unlikely to be resolved until after the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.

The Argentina captain has been in discussions over a new deal for three months and it was anticipated an agreement would be reached by the end of the season.

He was expected to follow the lead of goalkeeper Jose Reina, who signed a new six-year contract last month, but so far nothing has been finalised.

And with the players having been released by the club for the summer - which for many means preparations for next month's FIFA World Cup - it seems likely Mascherano's improved contract will not be sorted until the middle of July at the earliest.

Back in March, manager Rafael Benitez said he expected the midfielder to sign his new deal by the end of the Premier League campaign.

Now that has not happened it leaves open the prospect that a good tournament for the 25-year-old will lead to more speculation over his future.

There was a similar scenario last summer when Barcelona were heavily linked with a move for the Argentinian before the departure of fellow midfielder Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid resulted in Benitez slapping a £50million price-tag on the player.

Aside from Mascherano's contract, Benitez - who has stressed he is keen to stay at the club despite his own future coming under intense scrutiny - has other plans to put in place before the players return for pre-season training in mid-July.

A seventh-place finish in the Premier League means the club will begin their Europa League campaign in the third qualifying round , which starts on 29 July  - the same stage at which this season's runners-up Fulham entered.

That date is just 18 days after the FIFA World Cup final, which Liverpool could conceivably have players involved in.

Benitez is obviously not happy about the scenario but begrudgingly accepts it is something which is happening more regularly.

"We have to prepare. We have pre-season more or less organised and we now have to analyse carefully the schedule and see if we can organise the fixtures properly," said the Spaniard.

"Last year we had too many players away with the Confederations Cup (also in South Africa) so the teams are suffering with these tournaments and every year it is more and more so it is not easy."