Gonzalo Higuaín, Argentina’s unlikely great hope?

By Online Editorial

gonzalo higuain

As Argentina continues to be split on Diego Maradona’s credentials and decisons as national coach, Ben Lyttleton looks at how a player who has won just three caps could end up being their key player at a World Cup where so much is expected of them.

In Argentina they call it the Maradona Roadshow. The Argentina national team played another friendly last week, when they needed two goals in the last ten minutes to beat Jamaica 2-1, and it did not go down well in the country. “This game taught us nothing at all,” wrote Clarin while La Nacion’s editorial read: “This was a win, but all the questions we have still remain.”

The biggest question, though, continues to be Maradona’s suitability for the job. After all, there was huge embarrassment when he called up four Estudiantes players for this “local-based squad” without realising that the Argentine champions were playing in the Copa Libertadores this week. So he called up Atletico Tucuman striker Juan Pablo Pereyra, only to be told that he was currently out of action with a broken nose.

Maradona’s tally for call-ups now stands at an astonishing 102 players in 16 months, covering just 15 games. In the same time period, Fabio Capello has called up 33 players. Of that 102, 22 have been forwards. “Just by looking at their faces when they put on that Argentina shirt, I know how much this means to them,” Maradona said of the local boys who played this week.

Only two might feasibly make his final World Cup squad: striker Martin Palermo, 36, who scored a crucial goal in qualifying and the equaliser against Jamaica; and Diego Pozo, the 31-year-old Colon goalkeeper who might sneak in as third-choice.

As usual, Maradona managed to offend a few important people last week: Racing coach Claudio Vivas came in for severe criticism after daring to complain that Maradona’s fixture list is disruptive to his side’s season, while Real Madrid sports director Jorge Valdano, Maradona’s former team-mate, was blamed for Fernando Gago’s aborted move to Manchester City.

Maradona might do well to keep Valdano on his side in future, though. The Madrid man has on his books the one player that could restore the team to their former glories and solve Maradona’s biggest problem in one fell swoop. It is astonishing to think that Gonzalo Higuain, a player who scored 24 goals and got nine assists for Real Madrid last season (and already has 14 goals this season), did not make his Argentina debut until a few months ago. He scored, unsurprisingly.

Maradona never explained his decision to ignore Higuain’s international claims, though the Argentine press suggested that it was because Higuain never got on with Gago and Gabriel Heinze, two of Maradona¹s favourite players. But his current form has made him impossible to leave out, and he could even bring out the best in Lionel Messi, who has never converted his Barcelona form onto the international stage.

Messi has struggled alongside Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez, and even both of them together. A taller front-man like Higuain can hold the ball up and allow Messi runs into space, just as Zlatan Ibrahimovic does for him at Barcelona. The Messi dilemma holds the key to Argentina’s World Cup: in recent years, Argentina have only played well when he has played well.

After all the call-ups and controversies, the qualifying drama and the media fall-outs, Maradona is now being urged to switch his formation to a 4-4-2 with a front-line of Messi and Higuain. “Higuain is a player who makes the extraordinary look ordinary,” said Valdano this week.

There is still another four months to go for Maradona to be won over, and starting a World Cup with a player with only three caps to his name, as Higuain has, represents some risk. But it could also be Argentina’s best chance of succeeding in South Africa. And if it works, and Argentina are 12.0 to win the World Cup, we will have to hail Maradona as a genius who knew what he was doing all along.

Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. © The Sporting Exchange Limited

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