“When in form, Gonzalo makes a difference. Higuain must score the goals that can help win the World Cup with Argentina”. The immortal Diego Maradona’s words lend credence to how important Gonzalo Higuain’s performances are for La Albiceleste heading into this summer’s tournament.
Where Lionel Messi has the burden and expectation thrust upon him to prove the difference for his country, it is at the risk of overlooking Higuain, who goes about his job diligently and at the top level as effectively as his compatriot.
Indeed, the Napoli frontman netted nine goals in qualification for the World Cup, four more than Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and just one less than Messi. Whilst Higuain with 21 goals trails Messi’s 37 in the scoring department for Argentina, it is the 26-year-old who has so far outperformed the Barcelona ace on the biggest stage. Where Messi has taken part in two World Cups and notably managed only the one goal, Higuain has a return of four goals, scored in just the four appearances during 2010’s tournament in South Africa.
It may be that the much vaunted trio have the ability to run rampant in Brazil, but equally it could be Higuain to really take the tournament by storm, particularly with Argentina’s set-up built as much to his strengths and familiarity as those of Messi.
The former Real Madrid striker, originally born in France, lines up in Coach Alejandro Sabella’s 4-2-3-1 formation, one that has the ability to morph into a 4-3-3 or even a 4-1-4-1 during the course of the game. Messi will occupy a position on the right, Aguero will operate on the left hand side and together with Angel di Maria they will flank the prolific Higuain, who is a throwback to the old fashioned No 9, in an era where the ‘false nine’ is very much en vogue. ‘El Pipita’ as he is known, has made the advanced striker role his own, eliminating the need, in Sabella’s eyes at least tactically, to call up Carlos Tevez, who had a fantastic season with Juventus.
For Argentina, Higuain provides a reference point up front. His link up play, positioning and clinical finishing adds an added potency to an already exceptional attack. And it is the quality of this front-line that rightly has people looking at them as tournament favourites and has Coach Sabella more than grateful for his riches up front: “The team plays with three attackers of an extraordinary level. It is very difficult to take one out. But we are going to continue like this.”
It is an aggressive strategy that the Napoli striker is suited to, thanks in part to his experience with Real Madrid and last term at the San Paolo. In his debut Serie A season, Higuain formed a similarly fruitful trident with Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne and netted an impressive 17 goals in his debut season.
The man himself is confident in Argentina’s capabilities in the tournament: “It’ll be difficult to win because there are so many great teams, but we have the right attitude and have a great team ready to do great things.”
The performances of Messi may ultimately dictate whether Argentina win it all, or fail to live up to expectations. However, Higuain’s goal scoring will be equally as important to Argentina’s ambitions at the World Cup. Don’t bet against the Napoli man putting his name amongst the top scorers of the tournament.