Defining moment: How Gonzalo Higuaín’s offside goal in Brazil is still remembered upon his retirement

A moment captured in time. The moment that almost was. It’s tough looking back at the 2014 World Cup from an Argentinian point of view. Despite not having the best side, they overcame the odds in Brazil to reach the final and came within touching distance of winning the tournament. Gonzalo Higuaín thought he had given his side the lead that night at the Maracanã, with the images of the striker wheeling away forever etched in infamy. With the news that Higuaín is hanging up the boots, it may go down as the moment that defined his career.

Indeed, the 34-year-old is one of the most underrated strikers of the modern era. A threat from every angle in the final third, he had the perfect balance of movement, creativity and proficiency, and while he retired from La Albiceleste with a respectable 31 goals, the ghost of that 2014 final must still haunt him to this day. 

The Germans were in red-hot form after dispatching Brazil 7-1 in the previous round, but the industry of Javier Mascherano kept Argentina in the game, guiding them through murky waters to head into the interval goalless. A tentative affair, Alejandro Sabella had his side well-drilled, but they were perhaps overly reliant on the brilliance of Messi, and needed one of their strikers to step up to the mantle. With Sergio Agüero absent, this was Higuaín’s moment. Missing a host of chances, it looked as though he would eventually break his duct, but he has had to live with that guilt ever since.

Even setting the scene pre-match, it looked like destiny for Argentina to win the World Cup that year. In the backyard of their bitter rivals Brazil, a Lionel Messi-inspired side dragged themselves through the knockout rounds, perhaps riding their luck at times considering they were hardly favourites amongst World Cup odds that year, arriving in Rio de Janeiro to face Germany.

A phase of play that must be as traumatic eight years later, Ezequiel Lavezzi drills the ball across the box on the half-volley, Higuaín finds space in between Mats Hummels and Philipp Lahm, manoeuvring himself to strike and give his country the lead. Elation from the Argentina end. Ecstasy. Or so they thought. Higuaín had barely composed himself when the linesman raised his flag and ruled him offside. Mentally it must have been so draining, and while the goal overshadowed a pretty dismal individual performance from Napoli’s hero, it’s still talked about as one of the biggest moments of his career. One that made him consider retirement.

“It’s not easy to be told ‘this guy’s no good anymore, he’s a failure, he can’t play football,” he said. “It hurts. Yes, it’s true that we didn’t achieve our objective, but to have been a failure? Reaching three finals isn’t failure.

“I was about to stop playing, but my mother told me to keep going. If it was up to me, I would’ve quit football. It’s something I love, but I love my mum more. She said she wouldn’t let me to leave what I love.”

In extra time, Mario Götze’s strike would go on to win the World Cup for Germany, and a crestfallen Messi was robbed of perhaps his best-ever chance to lift the famous international trophy. As for Higuaín, he would continue scoring goals in Italy, firstly with Napoli and then Juventus before loan stints at Chelsea and AC Milan. But now, it looks as if the autumn of his career will come to a crescendo when the MLS Season concludes. Plying his trade for Inter Miami, there seems to be none of the fanfare that a Diego Milito or Agüero received upon retirement. And that is a great shame given the calibre of goal scorer Higuaín was in his heyday. 

“The day has come to say goodbye to soccer, a profession that has given me so much and I feel privileged to have experienced it with its good and not so good moments,” a tearful Higuaín said at his last press conference. “I can now retire as I always dreamed, scoring goals and having fun playing the game.”

Looking to end the campaign on a high, the striker has hit 12 goals in his last 14 games and will want silverware in the United States to leave a lasting impression on the beautiful game. But he will still look back on that night in Brazil with so much regret. 

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Dan Dunn
Dan Dunn
Executive Managing editor

Editor and Admin at MarkMeets since Nov 2012. Columnist, reviewer and entertainment writer and oversees all of the section's news, features and interviews. During his career, he has written for numerous magazines.

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