Deadly finisher Higuain elevates Argentina

Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain, left, celebrates with Angel Di Maria and Lionel Messi after scoring versus Belgium in the World Cup quarterfinal match in Brasilia, Saturday, July 5, 2014.

Name: Gonzalo Gerardo Higuain
Born: December 10, 1987 in Brest, France
Position: Striker
Club: SSC Napoli

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Why he’s in the news

After being held goalless through the first four games of the World Cup, Higuain finally opened his account with a brilliant strike in the early minutes against Belgium, which proved to be the winning mark in Argentina’s 1-0 quarterfinal victory. For a team that’s relied heavily—and successfully—on Lionel Messi to provide offence (Messi has four of Argentina’s eight goals so far), getting a normally prolific striker such as Higuain off the mark is a promising sign.

He’s special because

A classic striker, Higuain is the kind of deadly finisher that elevates any team. A clinician in front of the net, and a strong target man who’s adept at holding the ball, El Pipita is a goal machine—after more than a dozen years and over 250 appearances with top clubs in Argentina, Spain and Italy he averages more than a goal every two games.

Club career

Higuain cut his teeth with legendary Buenos Aires side River Plate as a teenager, getting 13 goals for Los Millionarios before his 20th birthday. That was enough for Real Madrid to take notice, and bring the budding talent to La Liga in 2007. Still young and learning to adapt, it took two seasons for Higuain to finally have his breakout at the Bernabeau, but in 2008-09 he scored 22 goals in all competitions; in 2009-10 he scored 29.

But Higuain was always an outsider at Madrid. By the end of 2011-12—the last of his three La Liga–winning seasons—he was tired of playing in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo and more popular striker Karim Benzema, and had to be convinced to stay. After an injury-hit and bitterly criticized 2012-13 season he’d had enough and pushed for a move. “No one has gifted me anything. I have had to fight for everything,” he’s quoted as saying the UK’s Guardian newspaper. “I want to go somewhere where they really want me.” That somewhere was Napoli in Italy’s Serie A, winners of a race for Higuain’s signature over the likes of Arsenal. Higuain settled well in Naples, bagging 24 goals in all competitions in his first season as the Partenopei finished third.

International career

Born in France, but Argentine through his father, Higuain had a choice to make, whether to shade his allegiance towards Les Bleus or La Albiceleste. Belatedly he accepted a call and made his choice to represent Argentina’s Olympic squad in 2008 and the senior national team for 2010 World Cup qualifiers. It took until Argentina’s second-last game of qualifying for Higuain to get off the mark, finally scoring the opener in a 2-1 win over Peru, but it was enough to help Argentina to the last automatic qualification spot in CONMEBOL. At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa that Higuain finally made his mark, scoring a team-leading four goals. He hasn’t looked back, building his tally to 21 goals in 41 games, including nine in qualification for Brazil.

His most famous moment(s)

Despite not feeling the love at Real Madrid, Higuain has give the supporters plenty to look back on fondly, not least his screaming half-volley goal in the 88th minute against Osasuna to secured the 2008 La Liga for Real, their 31st league championship.

Despite his less-than-prolific (so far) return for Argentina at this World Cup, in 2010 he produced a performance to remember on the big stage, scoring three against South Korea in Johannesburg, the only hat trick of the tournament and the first the World Cup had seen since 2002.

Interesting fact

Higuain’s benefits from good soccer genes: his father was a professional player who spent a spell in France (hence Gonzalo being born in Brest), and Gonzalo’s older brother, Frederico, is a striker with MLS’s Columbus Crew.

He said it

“They’ve been asking me since day one when the goal was going to come,” he said after the win over Belgium, “and I’ve always given them the same answer: ‘I’m working on it.’”

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