Gonzalo Higuain

by Vinay Kshirsagar

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Higuain (in blue), 2014. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cristiano_Ronaldo_and_Lionel_Messi_-_Portugal_vs_Argentina,_9th_February_2011.jpg

Gonzalo Higuain is a world-class striker. At the age of 30, he has tallied over 200 goals for club and country, playing for historically great sides like Juventus, Napoli, and Real Madrid. [2] He is not a bad soccer player, by any stretch of the imagination. But from the point of view of Lionel Messi’s international legacy, Higuain is the worst. He has arguably cost Messi 3 major international trophies, including a World Cup, due to his lack of composure in front of goal during cup finals. In this article, we recap Higuain’s failures, and talk about how much blame a great player can accept for his teammate’s actions. (see also our article about Eder). [3] (Note: As of the end of April, it is yet unknown whether Higuain will be named in Argentina’s World Cup Squad.)


World Cup Final 2014 against Germany; lost 1-0

21’ minute 1-on-1 with Neuer, fails to hit target

30’ minute, goal ruled offsides, celebrates like a fool

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LvyODxDHNU – Palacio miss 97’ (Not Higuain)

The score was 0-0 during all of these, as Mario Gotze didn’t score for Germany until late in extra time. [5]

As a disclaimer, of course, there is no way to know what would have happened had Higuain finished his chances. More than likely Argentina would have won the World Cup, but who knows? Maybe Germany would have rallied, become more motivated to win after going down a goal. Maybe we’d be having this same conversation about a different Argentine player, or not at all. We only know what happened, we don’t know what could have happened. But still, many (including former Argentina coach Alfio Basile) blame Higuain for Argentina’s, and by extension Messi’s, inability to win in the final. [4] Note that I included Palacio’s miss for fairness’ sake.


Copa America 2015 against Chile; lost 0-0 (4-1)

In literally the last minute of regulation, Higuain had a golden chance to put home the game-winner, but could not finish from point-blank range (the angle was tight, we’ll give him that). Then when the game went to penalties, he kicked second after Messi’s conversion, and his kick sailed over the bar, contributing to Argentina’s loss. [6]


Copa America 2016 against Chile; lost 0-0 (4-2)

In the 21st minute, Higuain had a 1 on 1 chance against Chile’s keeper Claudio Bravo, but failed to hit the target. I must add that Messi missed a penalty in the shootout, so some of the blame falls on him. But, it may not have gotten to penalties had Higuain converted the opportunity. [7]


Now what does all this mean? Would Messi be viewed as a greater player himself, had Higuain finished his chances? Certainly, it wouldn’t hurt for Messi to have a World Cup under his belt, but it’s tricky since Messi is not directly responsible for his teammates actions, especially in 1-on-1 finishing chances like the ones Higuain missed. Is it fair to expect Messi to carry his national team to a championship? Maradona did it in 1986. Sir Alex Ferguson said, “give me Zidane and 10 pieces of wood and I can win the Champions League.” [1] Messi almost did but his teammates just didn’t perform when it mattered. For fans of Messi and Argentina, it’s hard not to view Higuain as the devil in disguise, thwarting Messi when he’s so close to glory. It’s hard not to view Messi as Sisyphus, rolling Argentina to final after final, only to be let down right before the top of the mountain.

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[1] “Zinedine Zidane: From World Cup sinner to Real Madrid savior?” Jefferson Lake. May 1, 2016. http://www.skysports.com/football/news/11835/10119598/zinedine-zidanes-10-year-journey. Accessed April 23, 2018.

[2] “Gonzalo Higuain.” Whoscored.com. 2018. https://www.whoscored.com/Players/19729/History/Gonzalo-Higua%C3%ADn. Accessed April 23, 2018.

[3] “The real reason why mentally traumatised Higuain always bottles big games.” Mark Doyle. Date unknown. http://www.goal.com/en-us/news/the-real-reason-why-gonzalo-higuain-always-bottles-big-games/atyhxp28300117c83upc7k6vf. Accessed April 23, 2018.

[4] “Gonzalo Higuain ‘soiled himself’ in 2014 World Cup final, claims former Argentina coach”. James Dutton. April 21, 2018. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-5641447/Gonzalo-Higuain-soiled-2014-World-Cup-final-claims-former-Argentina-coach.html. Accessed April 23, 2018.

[5] “2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Germany-Argentina.” FIFA.com. July 13, 2014. http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/matches/round=255959/match=300186501/index.html. Accessed April 23, 2018.

[6] “Chile win Copa América after beating Argentina on penalties – as it happened.” Tim Hill. July 4, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/football/live/2015/jul/04/copa-america-2015-final-chile-argentina-live. Accessed April 23, 2018.

[7] “Argentina vs. Chile. Football match stats.” ESPN.com. June 26, 2016. http://www.espn.com/soccer/matchstats?gameId=444696. Accessed April 23, 2018.

How to cite this page:

“Messi vs. Ronaldo – The Final Showdown?” Written by Philemon Kiptoo and Vinay Kshirsagar (2018). World Cup 2018 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, https://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/tournament-guides/mens-world-cup-2018-guide/messi-vs-ronaldo/ (accessed on [date]).