Monaco reserve Romero becomes Argentina's unlikely hero
11 July 2014, 17:57
Rio De Janeiro - Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero arrived in Brazil as the supposed weak link of the team after a season on the bench in France, but his superb World Cup displays have elevated him to national hero status.
It marks a radical turnaround for the goalkeeper, who saw coach Alejandro Sabella take heavy criticism from Argentine media and fans for sticking with him through his difficult days on the bench with AS Monaco.
They wanted a replacement even though the 27-year-old, who moved to Monaco on loan last year from Italian side Sampdoria, had performed well during the qualifiers for Argentina.
Sabella was unmoved. He backed Romero and several weeks before revealing his final 23-man squad for Brazil said the goalkeeper, who played in only nine league and cup matches for the Ligue One side, would be his World Cup number one.
That perceived gamble has paid off with the complaints disappearing amid some stand out displays by Romero.
He produced two brilliant saves in the second half of their 1-0 Group F victory over Iran, who threatened a seismic shock before Lionel Messi struck a wonderful last-gasp winner.
Romero's confidence grew and he produced solid displays against Switzerland and Belgium, keeping clean sheets against the European duo in the knockout stages.
But it was the semi-final penalty shootout against the Netherlands where he secured his position as national hero.
He dived low to his left to save the first kick from Netherlands defender Ron Vlaar, then flew high to his right to brilliantly palm away Wesley Sneijder's effort.
His two saves that helped book a place in the final against Germany in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday led to him being voted man-of-the-match for the first time.
The shootout success and his fourth clean sheet in six appearances in Brazil didn't go to his head, though.
"I want to thank Alejandro (Sabella), he helped me a lot during the most difficult year of my entire career," Romero said on Wednesday.
"I don't see this as a vindication. I'll keep working the same way. I'm lucky I've got a coach and the guys on the national team that always kept their faith in me."
The shootout semi-final win was Romero's 11th World Cup match. He has won nine and tasted defeat only once.
On Sunday, Romero will come face to face with some of the Germany players who four years ago dumped Argentina out of the World Cup with a stunning 4-0 demolition job in the quarter-finals.
"This is not revenge. We had played well in that World Cup until that game. We want to do things right this time."