FIFA World Cup 2018: Willy Caballero, Sergio Romero and Argentina’s goalkeeping crisis
While talking about Argentina’s 2014 World Cup campaign, it’s easy to get blinded by the brilliance of Lionel Messi. Just as it is easy it is to overlook the contribution of the last man --- goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
Four years later, it is his absence that is probably hurting Argentina as much as the lack of form of their attacking players.
Willy Caballero was handed his World Cup debut in place of the injured Romero and it was his error that helped Croatia nose ahead. Argentina disintegrated after that and slumped to a 0-3 defeat, their worst in a World Cup in 60 years.
Although it is unfair to blame Caballero alone for the loss, his recent performances don’t do his reputation much good. The 36-year old has been the second choice for both club and country and has often faced heavy criticism for fluffing his lines.
“The goalkeeper has done this before. He did it against Spain, against Italy when they hit the post, and if you slip up like that in a World Cup, it’s a goal,” Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone said after the match in an audio message leaked to Spanish and Argentine radio stations.
With Romero in the fray, Caballero’s appearances for Argentina was limited to the odd friendly and the only reason he got his World Cup debut was the injury to Romero, their first-choice keeper.
Romero, who played every minute of the 18-match qualifying cycle, was a star performer for his side with eight clean sheets and his importance in the team was clear from the way Javier Mascherano informed the media of his injury. “Romero’s injury represents a big low, not as a footballer, but as a man. He has been the leader of the team for 10 years,” Mascherano said, days before the World Cup.
Thus, coming into the World Cup, Caballero was under immense pressure and lack of match practice did not help matters. Serving mainly as deputy to Thibaut Courtois at Chelsea, Caballero played just 13 matches in the entire season.
The second-choice at Manchester United after David de Gea, Romero too struggled to game time in the Premiership but the rigorous World Cup qualification campaign meant that he got to play against quality opponents. And on Thursday night, the world again got to see why Romero was conspicuous by his absence.