For Argentina fans, the sight of their team celebrating qualifying for the Final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil must have been incredibly moving. Yet via a closer look even greater significance can be found, with 9 July’s dramatic semi-final win over the Netherlands taking place 198 years to the day after Argentina’s declaration of independence. And La Albiceleste certainly played like a side with a common cause, battling for every ball and putting the good of the team before any individual glory.
You only have to look at the lung-bursting shift attacker Ezequiel Lavezzi put in down his flank; the way inspirational Javier Mascherano denied Arjen Robben an 89th-minute winner; how Sergio Romero saved two penalties in the shoot-out and let his actions, rather than any angry words, answer his critics; or even how Maxi Rodriguez – subbed off at half-time in Argentina’s opening game here in Brazil – stepped up to fire the decisive spot-kick, triggering memories of his Round of 16 winner versus Mexico in 2006.
“We showed that we know what’s at stake,” said a tired but happy Mascherano, speaking to FIFA after the match. “This team put their heart where their lungs should be, but you need more than that to win. Each of us was intelligent enough to understand what was best for the team, which is why we played a very good game. We couldn’t get a goal, that’s true, but then Sergio did the business during the penalties,” added El Jefecito (The Little Chief), who more than lived up to his nickname in Sao Paulo.
Goalkeeper Romero, meanwhile, with the shoot-out ball still tucked under his arm, remained humble despite his spot-kick heroics. “I’d just like to thank those who’ve had nice things to say about me today. I never let the criticism I had get me down, on the contrary, it made me work harder. All I’d say is that I’m doing my bit for my team-mates, which is what matters,” said the custodian, who denied Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder from the spot and boasts three clean sheets from three knockout-stage games, when speaking to FIFA.
“Even though it wasn’t a brilliant game to watch, I think that overall we were the better side. Argentina were the ones who took the initiative and who attacked more, while the Netherlands barely troubled us,” was the verdict of a beaming El Pocho Lavezzi, before outlining the key to Argentina’s triumph. “It was down to the hard graft we all put in. We stuck together, did what we needed to do and even almost grabbed the winner late on.”
Next up to give his insight was former Liverpool wide-man Maxi, whose substitute appearance against the Oranje was his first since being withdrawn at half-time in the Group F opener versus Bosnia and Herzegovina. “I knew that at some point I’d get on the field again, and maybe even make an important contribution,” he told FIFA. “How did I feel before taking the final penalty? When you’re walking from the centre circle lots of things go through your mind, but now only one matters: we’re going to be in the World Cup Final.”
¡¡¡¡ARGENTINA FINALISTA!!! ¡¡¡¡ARGENTINA FINALISTA DEL MUNDIAL DE BRASIL!!!! pic.twitter.com/2AAE7oTk0a— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) July 9, 2014
“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a kid, what more can I ask for?” continued Lavezzi, looking ahead to Sunday’s Final. “This is priceless,” chipped in Maxi. “When we were leaving [Argentina’s training base in Buenos Aires] the Predio de Ezeiza, Leo [Messi], Masche and I spoke about how to get past the last eight, and how this would be the last World Cup for a lot of us. We’ve achieved what we came here to do, which was to reach the Final, but now we want to win it.”
Nor is keeper Romero concerned about the firepower of the Germany team that destroyed Brazil in Tuesday’s semi, and a nation who have eliminated Argentina from the past two World Cups: “It’s going to be a different kind of game, a new chapter. You can’t use that match as a yardstick.” Continuing in a similar vein was Maxi: “Germany have their own style, they know what they’re doing. But we’ve got to play our game too. Against the Dutch we played a brilliant tactical game and we’re going to need to do that again.”
Sharing, without realising, some of the ideals of those who declared his country’s independence all the way back in 1816, Mascherano signed off in balanced though determined fashion. “We’re going to be playing in the most important match of our lives, but we need to enjoy it too, because the road here has been very long and we’ve taken a lot of knocks along the way. Right now there’s happiness, a sense of responsibility and expectation in the air. Let’s hope we’re up to the task.”