In the wake of Gonzalo HIGUAIN’s announcement that he was retiring from the Argentina national team, where does he rank among the all time greatest goal scorers for his country?
“YOU CAN NOW STOP WORRYING ABOUT WHETHER I AM THERE OR NOT.”
That was part of the statement which was released by the Chelsea forward when announcing his retirement. The year 2009 was 10 years ago but in a troublesome period for Argentina, HIGUAIN was seen by many as the real heir to Hernan CRESPO’s number 9 shirt and that of Gabriel BATISTUTA who came before him.
After months of Argentina fans worldwide clamoring to have the then Real Madrid striker finally wear his country’s shirt, Diego MARADONA rolled the dice on the 21 year old HIGUAIN. Gonzalo’s first match for his country came in an absolute must win World Cup qualifying match against Peru. With the score at 0-0 and nerves ever increasing, Pablo AIMAR sent in a pass to HIGUAIN and he made no mistake in scoring his first goal for his country.
That goal was the first of 32 in an Argentina shirt, many of which proved to be crucial. In a time where no one had solidified and made the number 9 theirs, HIGUAIN grabbed it and ran with it. A friendly match against Germany prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup saw him score his second goal for his country, the match winner in a 1-0 victory.
He had coach Diego MARADONA’s trust come the big tournament in South Africa a few months later. Gonzalo scored four goals, three of which against South Korea as he scored the first hat trick of the 2010 FIFA World Cup and a first hat trick scored by an Argentine since Gabriel BATISTUTA did it in 1998 against Jamaica.
Despite not winning the World Cup, the Albiceleste played world champions Spain in Buenos Aires shortly after La Furia Roja lifted their first World Cup trophy. A 4-1 win for Argentina and another goal by Gonzalo HIGUAIN.
By the time the 2011 Copa America had come around, Sergio AGUERO was in excellent form but it was Gonzalo HIGUAIN who gave Argentina a life line against Uruguay in the quarter finals. A cross sent in by Lionel MESSI and a goal by HIGUAIN.
He would score in a friendly match against Nigeria but the best was yet to come. A second career hat trick for his country, this time in a 4-1 win against Chile in the World Cup qualifiers. He had reached 12 goals in 19 matches.
The team’s morale was absolutely shattered. Diego MARADONA stepped away as Argentina coach after the 2010 World Cup, Sergio BATISTA lasted less than a year as manager and the team was eliminated in the quarter finals on home soil at the 2011 Copa America.
All the pressure in the world was on the shoulders of Alejandro SABELLA’s men and HIGUAIN came up trumps in the first match when he scored the three goals. While the turning point of Argentina’s campaign may have come against Colombia in a 2-1 win, there was no denying HIGUAIN’s contributions to the team.
The year 2012 saw the emergence of the fantastic four. Lionel MESSI, Gonzalo HIGUAIN, Sergio AGUERO and Angel DI MARIA were a well oiled machine and at the time, the deadliest attack in world football on the international scene.
HIGUAIN would score against Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Chile and Venezuela (twice) in World Cup qualifying for 2014 and would finish the campaign with 9 goals, behind only Lionel MESSI (10 goals) and Luis SUAREZ who had 11 goals. And in between all of that, he managed a goal (or two, depending on your source) against Sweden.
Prior to the World Cup in Brazil, HIGUAIN would score against Italy in a friendly win. There was no opponent too big or too small for HIGUAIN to score against.
Come the show down in Brazil, it took him some time to get going. After having reached the quarter finals, he took matters into his own hands against Belgium. Having not surpassed the quarter final stage since 1990, HIGUAIN would put in a performance of a life time. He scored the only goal of the match in the 1-0 win and was one of the, if not the, best player on the pitch that day.
Unfortunately, what came after would go on to define his Argentina career for many. A clear through opportunity one on one against Manuel NEUER in the final of the FIFA World Cup against Germany. To this day, as an Argentina fan, a small piece of me dies when watching the opportunity he had at his disposal.
The miss happened and sadly, it would be the first of a hat trick no player would like to have. A goal against Hong Kong in a money grabbing friendly was followed by two Copa America goals against Jamaica (the match winner) and against Paraguay.
Argentina were in the final of the Copa America for the first time since 2007 and late in injury time, HIGUAIN had a chance to some what redeem himself for what happened less than 365 days earlier. A pass played in by Ezequiel LAVEZZI and HIGUAIN was at the end of the ball but from a difficult angle, he would miss. The match would go to penalties and HIGUAIN’s shot would go well over the bar. We all know what happened after.
A match winner in a friendly against Honduras was the preparation for the 2016 Copa America. HIGUAIN would score four goals in the knockout stages, two against Venezuela and two more in the semi finals against the United States.
A third final in just less than three years for Argentina and sadly, another final loss. HIGUAIN would have yet another glorious chance on goal but his shot, for the third time in a final, did not hit the net.
His goal scoring career for Argentina would come full circle in October of 2016 against Peru. His first ever goal for Argentina came against Peru and so did his last. In familiar fashion as well.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup would be HIGUAIN’s worst one, scoring zero goals and generally not playing too well.
Despite the three finals, Gonzalo made that number 9 shirt his for close to a decade. For the better part of seven years, he was a proven goal scorer for his country. And when his goals started drying out for the sky blue and white, they have (and are continuing) to struggle finding someone to fill his boots.
Dario BENEDETTO, Mauro ICARDI, Lautaro MARTINEZ, Paulo DYBALA, Lucas PRATTO and a few others have all been tested but no one has shown the same type of conviction, hunger or link-up play that HIGUAIN showed during his tenure leading the front line with the Albiceleste.
If it wasn’t a final and Gonzalo HIGUAIN was in the starting line-up, there was a pretty strong chance that he would score. A massive 23 of his 32 goals were in official matches. Be it a World Cup, a Copa America or a World Cup qualifier, 23 of his 32 goals came in those games.
While on paper Argentina may have top names when it comes to strikers, such as the one’s mentioned, it will be very difficult to replace HIGUAIN’s goals. Many of which were very important.
Gonzalo Higuaín: Argentina International Goals – Senior Level
|1||Peru||2010 World Cup Qualifiers||Octonber 10, 2009||Final 2-1 Argentina|
|2||Germany||Friendly||March 3, 2010||Final 1-0 Argentina|
|3||South Korea||2010 FIFA World Cup||June 17, 2010||Final 4-1 Argentina|
|4||South Korea||2010 FIFA World Cup||June 17, 2010||Final 4-1 Argentina|
|5||South Korea||2010 FIFA World Cup||June 17, 2010||Final 4-1 Argentina|
|6||Mexico||2010 FIFA World Cup||June 27, 2010||Final 3-1 Argentina|
|7||Spain||Friendly||September 7, 2010||Final 4-1 Argentina|
|8||Uruguay||2011 Copa America||July 16, 2011||Final 1-1 (5-4 P) Uruguay|
|9||Nigeria||Friendly||September 6, 2011||Final 3-1 Argentina|
|10||Chile||2014 World Cup Qualifiers||October 7, 2011||Final 4-1 Argentina|
|11||Chile||2014 World Cup Qualifiers||October 7, 2011||Final 4-1 Argentina|
|12||Chile||2014 World Cup Qualifiers||October 7, 2011||Final 4-1 Argentina|
|13||Ecuador||2014 World Cup Qualifiers||June 2, 2012||Final 4-0 Argentina|
|14||Paraguay||2014 World Cup Qualifiers||September 7, 2012||Final 3-1 Argentina|
|15||Peru||2014 World Cup Qualifiers||September 11, 2011||Final 1-1 Draw|
|16||Chile||2014 World Cup Qualifiers||October 16, 2012||Final 2-1 Argentina|
|17||Sweden||Friendly||February 6, 2013||Final 3-2 Argentina|
|18||Sweden||Friendly||February 6, 2013||Final 3-2 Argentina|
|19||Venezuela||2014 World Cup Qualifiers||March 22, 2013||Final 3-0 Argentina|
|20||Venezuela||2014 World Cup Qualifiers||March 22, 2013||Final 3-0 Argentina|
|21||Italy||Friendly||August 14, 2013||Final 2-1 Argentina|
|22||Belgium||2014 FIFA World Cup||July 5, 2014||Final 1-0 Argentina|
|23||Hong Kong||Friendly||October 14, 2014||Final 7-0 Argentina|
|24||Hong Kong||Friendly||October 14, 2014||Final 7-0 Argentina|
|25||Jamaica||2015 Copa America||June 20, 2015||Final 1-0 Argentina|
|26||Paraguay||2015 Copa America||June 30, 2015||Final 6-1 Argentina|
|27||Honduras||Friendly||May 27, 2016||Final 1-0 Argentina|
|28||Venezuela||2016 Copa America||June 18, 2016||Final 4-1 Argentina|
|29||Venezuela||2016 Copa America||June 18, 2016||Final 4-1 Argentina|
|30||United States||2016 Copa America||June 21, 2016||Final 4-0 Argentina|
|31||United States||2016 Copa America||June 21, 2016||Final 4-0 Argentina|
|32||Peru||2018 World Cup Qualifiers||October 6, 2016||Final 2-2 Argentina|
Despite being in 6th place in Argentina’s all time scoring list, many will remember him more for his misses than the goals he did score. Behind only Gabriel BATISTUTA, Hernan CRESPO, Sergio AGUERO, Diego MARADONA and Lionel MESSI on that list, HIGUAIN’s career with his national team is far from being a failure.
As mentioned, when Hernan CRESPO retired, Argentina struggled to find a replacement. But they found one in Gonzalo HIGUAIN. But you know what they say. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.