With a single swish of the right boot in his side's World Cup quarter-final against Belgium, Gonzalo Higuain finally showed there may be more to Argentina than Lionel Messi after all. Higuain had been under scrutiny after going three and a half matches without scoring, but he needed just eight minutes to find the net in Argentina's 1-0 win in Brasilia on Saturday.
When a pass from Angel di Maria was inadvertently flicked into his path by Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen, the 26-year-old pounced to snap a crisp volley into the bottom-left corner that sent his team into the last four.
Having spent a month on the sidelines due to an ankle injury, Higuain had looked ponderous in his previous appearances in Brazil, but after putting Argentina in front against Belgium, he was a man transformed. From harrying opponents to bringing his team-mates into play with deft lay-offs, Higuain suddenly looked every inch the player who had scored 17 goals for Napoli last season in his debut Serie A campaign.
He clipped the crossbar with a powerful shot after nutmegging Belgian skipper Vincent Kompany in the second half. Higuain was named man-of-the-match and coach Alejandro Sabella was quick to salute his performance. "He ran a lot, he helped his team-mates a lot, and he scored a very important goal. That's what you expect from strikers," Sabella said.
Dependence on Messi
Prior to Saturday's game, Sabella had faced a barrage of questions about his team's supposed dependence on Messi, but Higuain's display showed that the Argentina number 10 is not the only player who knows where the goal is.
As a reminder of his abilities, it could scarcely have been more timely, with both Di Maria and Sergio Aguero injury doubts ahead of Wednesday's semi-final against the Netherlands in Sao Paulo. Di Maria was due to undergo scans on Sunday after being forced off in the 33rd minute against Belgium with an apparent thigh injury, while Aguero has not played since a muscular problem curtailed his participation in the group-phase success against Nigeria.
With only four goals to his name in 35 international appearances, Ezequiel Lavezzi is unlikely to illuminate the path to goal at the Arena de Sao Paulo either. Higuain has known moments of difficulty before in his career, most notably when he lost his place at Real Madrid to Karim Benzema, but he said that he never doubted his capacity to make a mark at the World Cup.
"I had faith in my qualities. The coach and the staff were behind me, and that's what matters to me," he said. "I'm already thinking about the semi-final. We have two matches left to make history."
While Messi has unsurprisingly been cast as the 2014 Diego Maradona - who inspired his team to glory at the 1986 World Cup with five goals and five assists - Higuain may yet prove to be his generation's Jorge Valdano.
By the conclusion of the 1986 tournament, Valdano had emerged as the only striker trusted by coach Carlos Bilardo to lead the line ahead of Maradona in Argentina's innovative 5-3-1-1 system. The Real Madrid striker ended the competition with four goals to his name - including one in the final against West Germany - and a winner's medal around his neck.
Higuain, whose six-year spell at Madrid coincided with Valdano's return to the club as general director in 2009, would accept the same outcome.