I spoke to friends before Wednesday’s game against the Netherlands and I told them I was convinced Argentina would win on penalties. They said I was crazy, but I’m not – I knew that the longer the game went on, the better chance Argentina would have to win it.
It was a very hard-fought game, but Sergio Romero was decisive and I’m so happy for him. He was a team-mate of mine at the end of my career at Racing and he’s humble, hard-working – a great person. Alejandro Sabella kept faith in him and that confidence, that continuity and even bravery to stand by a player who didn’t have the opportunity to play often at Monaco last season, has all paid off.
I’m very happy that it has worked out for Sabella because it’s always difficult for a coach to decide whether to keep faith in a player or bring in another. You don’t always get it right, but in this case it has worked out perfectly.
Before the shootout, Javier Mascherano told Romero that he was going to become a hero. That doesn’t surprise me. He may not be the captain, but leaders don’t need an armband to mark their leadership and Mascherano has shown that wherever he has played – that human strength and the kind of player he is.
He’s a guy with a big personality and he showed his leadership skills by supporting a team-mate in a decisive moment.
Returning to a final represents a hugely important moment for Argentine football. It’s a historic moment for everyone – for the players who have steered the team to the game on Sunday, the coaching staff and for football as a whole in the nation. If the team could go on to become world champions, it would be a very big step to continue growing in future.
But first Argentina face Germany for the third time in a World Cup final and more than pressure, there will be great responsibility for both teams.
Joachim Low is a great coach. He has improved Germany no end as an attacking team in the last few years and their success is no coincidence. From his work as an assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann and now as coach outright, he has overseen great growth and built an exciting team which keeps on improving and playing better football.
Beating Germany will be tough, but Sabella will know better than anyone what it takes because he’ll be studying everything they are doing right now in great detail.
Germany are a very solid and organised team, but I think there’s one thing which could favour Argentina and that’s their high defensive line. Germany play with a high line and the speed of Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain could be crucial in breaking through. The Germans will need to be very attentive to those two in particular, to Angel Di Maria if he is fit and to Sergio Aguero.
With Germany defending almost beyond the halfway line, that means there is plenty of space to be exploited and it’s where Argentina can perhaps find the key to breaking through the German offside trap.
Just like Maradona back in 1986, Messi is in the final against Germany. And this time, the whole of Argentina hopes Messi will be at his best on what is such an important occasion.
But you cannot compare. If Messi plays badly and Argentina win, he will be praised because he’s a champion. But if he plays really well and doesn’t end up winning, what will they say?
Football has changed, the team-mates have changed and the rivals have changed. I don’t think it’s fair to compare players from different eras. You cannot compare Di Stefano to Pele, Pele to Maradona or Maradona to Messi. Times have changed. You can like one better than the other, but it’s a question of personal choice. That’s my opinion.
From a purely football point of view, I would say the final is 50-50. But speaking solely from a passionate perspective, I have no doubt Argentina will win it on penalties.
Brazil’s most painful defeat
What happened to Brazil is not normal and it won’t happen again for many, many years. It was a very sad day for them and for their coach, but above all for the Brazilian people. They came up against a superior and ruthless Germany side. This is a game and those things are unexpected – but they can happen. It has happened in a World Cup and for Brazil, probably in the place where it hurts most of all.