Argentinian internationals who make their living playing at the back can be sure of one thing: they will very rarely make the headlines.
The reason? The presence of Lionel Messi of course, whose goals, mind-blowing performances and Man of the Match trophies attract the majority of media attention.
Wednesday’s final Group F match between La Albiceleste and Nigeria in Porto Alegre proved no exception, but it did have an unusual footnote, as the winning goal was scored by Marcos Rojo.
The crucial strike did not come from Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero or Angel Di Maria, but a robust left-back who, in his 24 international appearances has gained a reputation for no-nonsense tackling and tireless running rather than finishing prowess.
“To score my first goal for Argentina, and for it to come at the World Cup and to secure three points for us – that’s what dreams are made of,” the unlikely hero told FIFA.com.
“I couldn’t ask for more, although it wasn’t a particularly beautiful goal,” he added, referring to the scrambled effort that came off his head and knee before ending up in the back of Vincent Enyeama’s net.
But history books tend to pay scant attention to the aesthetic quality of goals, instead focusing on the actual results. In the chapter devoted to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, Rojo’s second-half winner will be listed just after the Super Eagles’ equaliser, providing the Argentinians with a 3-2 victory that secured top spot in the group.
“Today, we were clearly a lot more inspired going forward,” noted the Sporting Lisbon defender, making the comparison to the South Americans’ two previous outings against Bosnia and Herzegovina (2-1) and Iran (1-0), where unconvincing displays were salvaged by goals from Messi.
“Our attacking players helped us out by scoring quickly. You always feel a bit more comfortable in a winning position.”
Wednesday’s encounter was punctuated by the skills of one attack-minded star in particular, with Messi scoring the first two goals, albeit with the outstanding assistance of Di Maria, Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi, who replaced the injured Sergio Aguero.
“The key factor in our improved performance today was an increase in space, because Nigeria were attacking and trying to win the match,” pointed out the former Estudiantes and Spartak Moscow player. “That inevitably makes the match more open. And we knew that if we had more space available to us than in the first two matches, we’d create more chances.”
The two-time world champions have now scored six times in three games, setting up a Round-of-16 meeting with the second-placed side in Group E, which features Switzerland, France, Ecuador and Honduras.
“Now a whole new competition begins,” said Rojo. “There’s no longer any margin for error. We either win or go home. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best part of the tournament.”
Obviously, any team for which a four-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner plays a crucial role is well within its rights to dream about staying in Brazil a little longer. “Being able to watch him from the back is such a fantastic experience,” said Rojo, just as his talented team-mate was collecting the Budweiser Man of the Match award in front of the world’s sporting press.
Rojo, meanwhile, was able to take his leave discreetly, as befits an Argentinian international born at the beginning of the 1990s who makes his living playing in defence.