Argentina's privileged spectator

Comfortably in control of their match with Panama after a first-half goal blitz, the Argentina players started to knock the ball around, switching play from one side of the pitch to another. The captivated crowd showed their appreciation, greeting each carefully weighted pass with shouts of "Ole". The South Americans were letting their hair down while the spectators went wild. All of them that is, except one. Looking on intently from the goalmouth was the Albicelestes' giant goalkeeper Sergio Romero. Focused on the job at hand after keeping his goal intact with a string of fine saves, the towering custodian is nevertheless appreciative of his side's beguiling play, as discovers.

"It's just great to watch the boys up front sometimes. You even feel like applauding them," he says in the wake of his team's 6-0 demolition of the Canaleros. "It's great that we're playing this well because it gives the guys at the back confidence, and vice versa. And here was me thinking I was going to have a quiet day with the press," he chuckles.

Joking apart, Romero knows full well his timely interventions did not go unnoticed despite the thrilling performance of his team-mates. "Panama created a lot of chances at the start of the game. But then we scored four in a short space of time and that made things a lot easier for us. It was a good win as it helps bring the team even closer together and increase our confidence," says the keeper, who stands an imposing 1.91m tall.

Speaking of confidence, one man who has complete faith in the young shot-stopper is Argentina coach Hugo Tocalli, once a member of the goalkeeping union himself. "Romero is a very solid keeper, not showy at all, and I feel he'll go on to great things in the future. If he can hold a place down with his club, I'm sure we'll be seeing him in the full Argentina team."

A family of giants
Born in Misiones, a province where basketball is more popular than football, Romero is the youngest and, amazing though it may seem, the shortest of four brothers. "I'm the baby of the family in every respect. My other brothers are 2.08 metres, 1.93 and 1.95," he says disarmingly, before adding with a mischievous grin, "My parents are average in height, but it's good we're all as tall as we are. That shows there was nobody else involved." (laughs)

Not surprisingly given his roots, Romero's first calling was basketball, a sport he still plays every time the family gets together. "Gimnasia from Comodoro Rivadavia, where I lived for a long time, made me an offer, but I was 15 by then and I was more into football. In the end I decided to join Racing Club," he explains, secure in the knowledge that having reached Canada, he has made the right decision. "If I'd chosen basketball, I'd probably be asking my brother to help me play with him in the States. He spent five years there playing for Florida State."

A life between the sticks
As he acknowledges, his basketball-playing brother, five years his elder, has had a major influence on his life. "I did everything he did. When he was playing basketball I would copy him. When he played football, I played football. That was how I got into goalkeeping, when I was ten years old. I would stand in the doorway at home and he would score goal after goal against me," recalls Romero, who lists Iker Casillas, Santiago Canizares and Oliver Kahn as his goalkeeping inspirations. "The great thing about being a keeper is that no one can ever say they know it all. Other keepers always have a t¡p they can pass on to help you improve."

And on the subject of polishing up his game, Argentina's man in yellow admits to having made a change or two to his game since last January's South American championship. "I used to have a bit of trouble with crosses, but I've hung onto a good few here. It was the same with shots at my near post. I let in two like that in Paraguay, but I managed to stop one against Panama the other day."

With the Albicelestes facing a possible Round-of-16 showdown with Brazil, Romero signs off with his take on the old enemy. "It's a classic rivalry, and we played them in the Sudamericano. They're a great team, but we're not talking about them just yet. We've got Korea DPR coming up and they'll be tough to beat. After that we can start thinking about who we might play. For now though, we've got to finish the group off properly." For Romero that means keeping his goal intact for the third game in a row. And if his cultured team-mates can continue to keep him entertained with their beguiling play, then all the better.