Argentina brought to an end nearly two-and-a-half decades of frustration on Saturday when they downed Belgium 1-0 to check into their first FIFA World Cup™ semi-final since Italy 1990. It was a day on which Gonzalo Higuain also got back to doing what he does best, the Napoli striker choosing the perfect time to open his Brazil 2014 account, though his was not the only notable first on a memorable afternoon for La Albiceleste in Brasilia.
Strikers live and die by the goals they score, and after helping himself to four at South Africa 2010, Higuain’s recent goal drought was the subject of much comment back home in Argentina, not much of it positive.
Happily for him and his country, his four-game barren spell came to an end within just seven minutes of kick-off, Higuain expertly hooking the ball home with his right foot to send his side through and trigger celebrations among the thousands of Argentina fans packed into the Estadio Mane Garrincha.
“I wasn’t getting desperate about scoring because I knew I was going to get a goal sooner or later,” said Higuain, who exceeded even Lionel Messi in the popularity stakes in the stadium’s mixed zone after the match. “Obviously I’m very happy, especially with this being such a historically important win for Argentina.”
Happy to end his goal quest, he added: “They’ve been asking me since day one when the goal was going to come and I’ve always given them the same answer: ‘I’m working on it’.
Reflecting on the injury he picked up at the end of the domestic season in Italy, he said: “It’s not been an easy situation for me. I very nearly didn’t make it to the World Cup at all, but fortunately everything has worked out and I’ve been able to get that goal.”
Dream introduction for Perez
Though Higuain’s goal and the semi-final place it brought with it were the cause of much elation in the Argentinian camp, celebrations were tempered somewhat by the injury sustained by the talismanic Angel Di Maria, who limped off in the first half. Coach Alejandro Sabella had an innovative response to the Real Madrid man’s untimely exit, bringing on Benfica midfielder Enzo Perez for his first taste of World Cup action.
“I was lucky enough to make my debut and to do so in such an important match, and at such a tough time for anyone to come on was incredible,” Perez told FIFA.com. “I feel so happy inside, though obviously I’m sorry that Di Maria picked up an injury. Let’s hope it’s nothing serious.
“It’s a dream come true. It’s been such a long time since we last reached the semis at the World Cup. This team has fought really, really hard to get this far and I’m proud to be part of such an incredible group of players, even if I haven’t played that much up to now.”
Like the vast majority of the Albiceleste squad, Perez was just a toddler when Argentina reached the Final in 1990, though that has not prevented him from having some recollection of that distant day.
“I remember very little about it because I was very small, but I do have a vague memory of the parties we had at home whenever Argentina played,” he recalled, delving deep into the past. “And I can honestly remember the goal [Claudio] Caniggia scored against Brazil [in the Round of 16].”
The 28-year-old is now hoping history can repeat itself and that Argentina can make the Final for the first time since: “My whole family have always spoken to me about those World Cups – in 1986 and 1990 – and now here I am, right here involved in it all instead of watching it on TV. It’s just incredible to be part of this team and all I want to do is make it to the Maracana.”
Like every single one of his compatriots, Perez will be hoping that Brazil 2014 will be the source of many more fond memories for future generations of Argentina fans.