When they took the field versus Croatia in Tuesday's semifinal World Cup match, the taste of yerba mate may have still been fresh in mouths of Argentinian players. That’s because they and many other South American players swear by the traditional herbal beverage, according to the New York Times. "It has caffeine," Argentine midfielder Alexis Mac Allister explained to the Times, "but I drink it more than anything to bring us together." He and his teammates enjoy the beverage in the locker room before, during, and after matches, and some players can be seen toting around "traditional mate essentials," including a cup made from a gourd, a straw, and a thermos of hot water.
Argentina is not alone: Uruguay loves it so much that it made the "Botija" thermos its team mascot, which had some issue getting through the turnstiles in Doha’s metro system, the Times notes. Fearful their beloved beverage wouldn’t be widely available in host-country Qatar, the teams packed their own: The Uruguayans brought some 530 pounds of it, while the Argentinians brought 1,100.
Reuters reported earlier this month the trend has caught among some players outside South America, including French forward Antoine Griezmann and several teammates. According to Inverse, yerba mate is packed with antioxidants, polyphenols, A and B vitamins, and many other nutrients, but its cultivation carries a history of abuse and exploitation dating to colonial times. Today—at least in Paraguay, a major producer—the "industry is marred by and somewhat depends on child labor and debt slavery." (Read more yerba mate stories.)