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Jul 10, 2014

6 Argentinians who silenced critics

The ESPN FC World Cup Encore panel give credit to Messi's supporting cast for their performance against Netherlands.

The houses decorated with fabrics concentrated in the Buenos Aires port neighborhood of Once, or in any other corner of the country, must have heard more than enough prayers already. The Argentine national team is in the World Cup final, and everyone wants their own flag.

Logically, the colors selected are blue and white. The most frequently used word will not be "Argentina," however, but rather "sorry," asking forgiveness of all the players who were looked at with suspicion, who were scoffed at and dismissed. Players who, even if they don't win the World Cup, have already become a part of Argentina's wonderful football history.

Of course, a few flags will say "Thank you, Sabella," the coach who silently, with hard work and dedication, wagered big on many players in the face of criticism and put together a team matching his ambitions. A balanced and solid team whose fundamental trait is unity. Dedication. A sense of belonging, as Sabella likes to say.

Sergio Romero's penalty prowess has kept Argentina in the competition.

Sergio Romero: We've already talked about the goalkeeper ad nauseam. Even though he played only nine games all season long, he always had the support of the coaching staff. The public and press clamored for other options. Nevertheless, "Chiquito" was confirmed months before the final list of 23 was made official. The lack of regular playing time in Monaco has not affected his performance in the World Cup. He has kept a clean sheet in four out of six matches. He was fundamental against Iran and in the shootout against the Netherlands. Sabella was right on.

Martin Demichelis: Two years had passed since he was last called up to the national team. A Premier League title winner at Manchester City, he earned a place among the final 23. Patiently waiting for his chance, he was named in the starting lineup against Belgium. His presence provided the security that was lacking in the back line, and his experience served as a confidence booster for Ezequiel Garay and co. In the quarterfinals, as well as the semifinal match against the Netherlands, his ability to neutralise the opponent's attack was the team's best asset.

Marcos Rojo simply continues to impress fans who underestimated him.

Marcos Rojo: Probably the most criticised starting player on the team, Rojo was known to Sabella from when he played at Estudiantes. As time went by, he became a symbol for his dedication and confidence. He did a rabona in his debut at the Maracana, he scored a goal against Nigeria, and when he was injured against Switzerland in the round of 16 he came off the field to a standing ovation. It's been a great World Cup for the left-back.

Jose Maria Basanta: Another player who raised more doubts than certainty. His ability to play different roles on defense is what convinced Sabella. Although his natural position is as a marking centre-back, he is Sabella's first choice for left-back. He had the chance to show what he is capable of against Belgium, as Marcos Rojo was suspended for too many yellow cards, and he played a good match. A quiet man who keeps a low profile, he never responded to the criticism. As he said a few days ago, there was no fanfare anywhere he went, but he got the job done.

Lucas Biglia: He was the centre midfielder fans liked the least. Like Demichelis, he entered the starting lineup in the quarterfinals and provided the equilibrium that was missing. He was a much better fit with Javier Mascherano than Fernando Gago, and he was a key player in stifling both Belgium's and Netherlands' dangerous attacks. Quietly, he has taken over the position.

Enzo Perez was a surprising call-up, but no one is doubting his place now.

Enzo Perez: Perhaps the most surprising of all 23 names. Not because of his soccer ability; in fact he was the best player of the season in the Portuguese league, but because of how little he participated in this tournament cycle and also because he bumped out Ever Banega, who looked to have clinched a place on the team. He came on against Belgium for injured Angel Di Maria and did the job. Sabella showed confidence in him once again against the Netherlands and the Mendoza midfielder played a very good match. He made runs up the right wing and closed off space like he does at Benfica.

In summary, Sabella put together a squad that gets along well both on and off the field. He put his chips behind players who did not please most people, yet the results are plain to see. He arrived with the Fantastic Four and, above all, Lionel Messi, the X factor. But when they have failed to shine, there has always been someone else to lend a hand.

For all the silent heroes, flags of forgiveness fly in your honour.

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