Poise and elegance are two words that come to mind when Fernando Gago is on the ball, hence his nickname of Pintita (The Little Pretty One). The central midfielder is one of the game’s thinkers, combining defensive solidity with refined technique, while his intelligence and awareness invariably allow him to make the right decision when it comes to playing passes and moving into space.

Gago emerged from the youth set-up at Boca Juniors, making his debut for the club in 2004. His long association with La Albiceleste began a year earlier, Gago appearing in the sides that finished third at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Norway 2003 and won the FIFA U-20 World Cup Netherlands 2005, when he lined up with Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi.

His performances with Boca earned him a move to Real Madrid, where he caught the eye of the then national team coach Alfio Basile, who gave him his first cap in 2007. That same year he played in the first of his two Copas America and went on to win an Olympic gold medal at Beijing 2008 and make 12 appearances in the preliminaries for South Africa 2010, though Diego Maradona decided against taking him to the world finals.

Injury dogged Gago during subsequent stays with Roma, Valencia, Velez Sarsfield and on his return to Boca, though he remained in Alejandro Sabella’s plans at all times, playing a total of nine Brazil 2014 qualifiers despite his recurring fitness problems. The latest of his many injuries nearly cost him a place at the World Cup. The classy midfielder recovered just in time, however, and is set to play an important part in Argentina’s bid for glory.