Szychowski said mate, which was originally consumed by indigenous residents of the region before being spread by Jesuit missionaries, contains polyphenols, a compound with antioxidant properties. Some studies, he added, have suggested the drink may have a positive effect on health.
The influence and example of South American players like Messi, Uruguayan Luis Suárez and Brazilian Neymar – who were once club-mates at Barcelona – led other players to adopt the practice.
Antoine Griezmann, holder of the France team which will play the semi-finals on Wednesday, got into the habit after befriending Uruguayan players Cristian Rodríguez and José María Giménez when they were teammates at Atlético Madrid. Griezmann said he now drinks it daily. Another French star, Paul Pogba, said in 2018 that he became addicted to the companion after one of his Manchester United teammates at the time – Marcos Rojo, an Argentine – gave him some of his own infusion .
“It’s perfect,” Pogba told an Argentine TV channel. “I liked it.”
Szychowski called soccer players the best yerba mate ambassadors in the world, before noting that Pope Francis, an Argentinian, is also known to enjoy a cup.
However, not all gamers are fans of the taste, which some have called too bitter, too grassy, too earthy. (Experts have advised beginners to start with a gentle companion.) Walker Zimmerman, a defender for the United States team that was knocked out of the World Cup in the round of 16, said two years ago two of his Argentinian teammates at FC Dallas – Maximiliano Urruti and Mauro Díaz – introduced him to the journeyman, but he admitted: “I don’t think I would go it alone.”
Lisandro López, a former Argentina defender, said not everyone was used to him nursing his mate through a straw while playing in Portugal. “Most of the time – and I lived in Lisbon for four years – I would go to a square to drink mate and people would look at me weirdly, like you were on drugs or something,” said Lopez.
Luis Hernández, the former Mexico striker, said his palate couldn’t quite get used to the taste when he spent a season at Boca Juniors in Argentina. While everyone else on the team was drinking mate, he said, he was the only one who resisted.
“I prefer a good coffee to a cup of mate,” Hernández said, later adding with a chuckle, “They say it helps them? But the companion does not help you score goals.