In 1990, Sergio Goycochea stepped in for the injured Neri Pumpido and would be one of the catalysts to help lead Argentina in the World Cup. Between Maradona playing on one leg and “Goico” making important saves as well as stopping penalties in shootouts against Yugoslavia as well as Italy, the Argentines reached the final for the last time.
Twenty four years later, Argentina find themselves in a similar path to the final and the destiny lies with the man in goal. Sergio Romero was the poster child for all goalkeepers that were sacrificial lambs when Argentina collapsed against Germany in the World Cup in South Africa four years ago. Romero was essentially without a defense in front of him as wave after wave of German attacks harassed his goal in Cape Town.
At that moment, Romero was the undisputed top goalkeeper since he was the starter over at AZ Alkmaar but things would start to gradually change and his grip on his spot wasn’t as solid as it once was.
Going into the 2014, Alejandro Sabella was questioned coming into the match against Romania in Sofia back in March. The former Sampdoria man headed to Monaco in order to solidify his position within the Argentine national team but his lack of continuity at the club level ended up being the negative side of the double-edged sword.
The prevailing sentiment in that match was “how could a player without any type of club continuity be the undisputed starter of a national team?” Sabella stuck to his guns and decided to go with the goalkeeper that had been there for the previous two coaches and has since proved all the naysayers that his coach was right in picking him.
His performance against Romania was one of the more amazing performances of an illustrious international career up to this point. It was a moment where he was made the undisputed shot stopper. Thus that ended the talk about players like Mariano Andújar or Juan Pablo Carrizo to get a shot. At the same time, though there were many proponents for those two to be starters at that moment, the case against them was the same one as Romero’s- lack of playing time.
Then many were talking about the possibility of seeing Málaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero’s make the trip to the World Cup. Crystal Palace man Julian Speroni was also mentioned. Yet Sabella stood steadfast with his guy and when the World Cup started he was once again proven to be the man for the job.
In this World Cup, there has been a great deal of stress and strife in each and every one of Argentina’s matches. Although many thought that the Argentines would breeze relatively easily into this stage. As we reflect on what has gone on in this tournament, the Albiceleste won all their matches by a goal difference. Some were stressful finishes; others were nerve wracking such as the match against Iran and the quarterfinal against Belgium.
Romero’s performances throughout the World Cup might not place him in the upper echelon of goalkeepers in this tournament, but it’s been good enough for Argentina to get to the semis for the first time in 24 years. You could truly make the argument that Romero has been the team’s most consistent performer in this tournament to date.
Even though Messi has been the hero on several occasions, he’s appeared in flashes. Still his greatness is something to behold and the goals and passes that he’s scored have been well worth the money spent on admission.
Yet it was Romero’s heroics in the most difficult moments that put Argentina in situations where Messi’s genius would stand out. It was Romero against Iran that denied the few chances they had that were near goal. Romero also slammed the door on Switzerland and Belgium in the dying moments of the match. His save in the end and some “papal intervention from afar” were key after Ángel Di María’s goal had 45 million Argentinians looking for ways to see how it was physically possible to make time go faster.
Yet when it came down to it, it was the security that one of its biggest question marks that made this team even stronger where it was weakest and now sees this squad poised to surpass the greatest challenge that it has had to face so far in this tournament.