The Argentinean public has long been clamouring for Gonzalo Higuain to be called up to the national team and, at long last, Diego Maradona has included the young forward in his 22-man squad for La Albiceleste's crucial final two qualifiers against Peru and Uruguay. Higuain himself could hardly conceal his delight and told FIFA.com that the long-touted call-up was a dream come true.
The 22-year-old, who left River Plate for Real Madrid three seasons ago, has avoided controversy and endeavoured to do his talking on the pitch. Now, with two La Liga titles and a Spanish Super Cup to his name, Los Merengues' top scorer last season is eager to help Argentina secure a direct berth at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
FIFA.com: Gonzalo, what's your take on Argentina's current position in South American qualifying?
Gonzalo Higuain: I'm sure that Argentina will manage to get the job done. We're going to make it to the World Cup, of that I have no doubt. I've followed every game closely because it's my country and I'm very passionate about it. I hope that, together, we can all do our bit for the team and qualify for South Africa.
How does it feel to finally become a part of Maradona's squad?
It's a dream come true! I've been waiting for this moment ever since I first kicked a ball in Argentina and have thought about it every day I've been here. I'm going to take full advantage of this opportunity.
The media and the supporters in Argentina had been pushing for your inclusion for quite a while...
I take great pride in that - it's recognition for doing my job well. Now I hope I can repay that support with effort and goals.
You said you have dreamt of this moment ever since you first kicked a ball...
We all have dreams. Since first arriving here in Madrid I have tried to become a player the fans love and now I can feel the warmth of the people. This is such a beautiful feeling because it means they appreciate the job you're doing. I have absolutely no regrets in deciding to come here. To be honest, everything has happened really quickly; in three years here I've been lucky enough to win three trophies and to play a lot. I'm very happy with how things have turned out for me, because it's not always easy at a big club like this. I just hope it can continue.
You enjoyed success in your first two years but last year Bareclona's dominance must have been hard to swallow. This year, have Real Madrid got the quality to topple Barca?
Yes, for sure. We're a proper team this year and we're going out to challenge for three competitions. We have a big squad with a great depth of quality, I'm positive we can challenge for all three so let's see if we're the ones lifting trophies next summer.
Is the UEFA Champions League the one you really want to win considering the final will be held at the Santiago Bernabeu?
We can't let it slip by this year. Madrid have got to get back to where they belong in Europe and we have the team to do it. We've started well and we plan to keep going all the way to the final.
It has been said that the squad is laden with talent, and particularly in the midfield and attacking positions. Is it more difficult now for you to hold down a place in the team?
Yes, it's more difficult. But at the same time it's good for the team because, in the long run, with so many players of that level of quality, the team will become like a well-oiled machine. We should be able to rotate the personnel without having to alter the structure of the team or our style of play.
The coach has indicated that he intends to use a rotation system.
Of course, it may well be that it doesn't happen quite yet but by the time January and February come around and we start entering the business end of the season, with so many games played the legs will start to feel it. With a bit of luck our quality and strength in depth can see us through.
What has Manuel Pellegrini brought to Madrid?
He's a coach who likes to play two-touch football, to defend quite far up the pitch and keep the formation tight. I think we've done this as well as possible so far but we'll improve further. We still lack a little cohesiveness, there are seven or eight new faces in the team and we all have to settle in together, but the team is getting better with each game.
Your father, Jorge Higuain, was also a professional footballer. How has that affected you in your own career?
For me it was always positive. My father has experienced a lot in the game and he was able to help me avoid making some of the same mistake he did. He's been very important in the progress I've made in my career.
He was a solid, tough defender. How did he manage to produce such a capable forward for a son?
(Higuain laughs at this point.) They are always joking, saying there must have been some break in the DNA because we're not one bit alike! In the football sense, that is! He always played football with us as boys, but like all fathers and sons we get along well. I have always been very close to him and have tried to learn from his personality and pursue my career like he did. He had a great career in Argentinean football even if he did only get to play one year in France.
One of your brothers also plays professionally [Federico Higuain plays for Godoy Cruz of Mendoza]. Does your family ever speak of anything other than football when you all get together?
Ah, yes, the only one not involved in the game is the youngest, the rest of us have all played. But we always try not to allow football take over everything - there are other things that are more important.
What about your poor mother?
Yes. (Higuain laughs again here.) We really are all very proud of her for everything, for taking care of us and for putting up with us, which wasn't so easy.
Do you still follow Argentinean football? Do your friends at River Plate ever ask you to come back and lend them a hand?
Yes, I still follow it because I've played for those colours. It's a pity looking at where they are now but they'll find a way out of it. Maybe one day I'll go back and play for River, but that day is still some time away. Right now, I have a lot to do here at Real Madrid.