Szychowski said mate, which was originally consumed by the region’s Indigenous residents before it was spread by Jesuit missionaries, contains polyphenols, a compound that has antioxidant properties. Some studies, he added, have suggested that the beverage can have a positive effect on health.
The influence, and the example, of mate-drinking players from South America like Messi, Uruguay’s Luis Suárez and Brazil’s Neymar — who used to be club teammates at Barcelona — have led other players to adopt the practice.
Antoine Griezmann, a fixture in the France team that will play in the semifinals on Wednesday, took up the habit after befriending the Uruguayan players Cristian Rodríguez and José María Giménez when they were teammates at Atlético Madrid. Griezmann has said that he now drinks it daily. Another French star, Paul Pogba, said in 2018 that he got hooked on mate 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 television channel. “I loved it.”
Szychowski called soccer players the best yerba mate ambassadors around the world, before noting that Pope Francis, an Argentine, is also known to enjoy a cup.
Not every player, though, is a fan of the taste that some have called too bitter, too herbaceous, too earthy. (Experts advised beginners to start with a sweet mate.) Walker Zimmerman, a defender on the United States team that was eliminated from the World Cup in the round of 16, said two of his Argentine teammates at F.C. Dallas years ago — Maximiliano Urruti and Mauro Díaz — introduced him to mate, but he admitted, “I don’t think I’d ever get into it on my own.”
Lisandro López, a former Argentina defender, said not everyone was used to him nursing his mate through a straw when he played in Portugal. “A lot of the time — and I lived in Lisbon for four years — I went to a plaza to drink mate and people looked at me weird, like you’re doing drugs or something,” López said.
Luis Hernández, the former Mexican 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 drank mate, he said, he was the lone holdout.
“I prefer a good coffee than a cup of mate,” Hernández said, adding later with a chuckle, “They say it helps them? But mate doesn’t help you score goals.”