FOXBORO, MA – JUNE 18: Gonzalo Higuain #9 of Argentina celebrates his goal during the 2016 Copa America Centenario quarterfinal match against Venezuela at Gillette Stadium on June 18, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
On the night Lionel Messi sensationally booted Argentina into next year’s World Cup finals in Russia, Gonzalo Higuain was watching thousands of kilometres away in Turin.
There was a touch of envy as the 29-year-old Juventus player took to Instagram to congratulate the national team: “Thanks a lot guys for taking Argentina where they should be, great effort, congratulations and enjoy.”
While in previous years his status was that of a business-class player jetting away for Argentina commitments to return to club duty at the last minute, now Higuain must adapt to another situation — the others go, he remains in Italy to work.
With three La Liga triumphs, one Scudetto in Serie A, and cup triumphs in Italy and Spain, Higuain is hardly short of trophies. But he has missed out on some of the biggest prizes of all.
In the past three and a half years, Higuain has lost in the final of a World Cup, the Champions League and two Copa Americas.
He was snubbed for the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifiers despite the uncertainty surrounding their qualification chances.
A situation that has weighed heavily on the 68-times capped Argentina international who has a tally of 31 goals scored over eight years for the Albiceleste.
“I want to leave my name at the highest level of this sport,” he insists. “To do that you need to have the humility to continue growing.
“(Juventus and Italy goalkeeper) Gigi Buffon always says as much — he’s almost 40 years old and he still believes he can improve. I feel like I can as well. I’m young. I hope I’ve still got lots of years ahead of me in football.”
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri urged Higuain to prove a point to Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli by rediscovering top form at club level.
And after a slow start to the campaign the Argentine striker showed signs of recovery this month against Atalanta with his third goal in eight Serie A games for the champions.
But last weekend his blunder from close range contributed to Juventus losing to Lazio in a first home defeat since August 2015.
The potentially damaging loss saw Napoli stretch their lead at the top of the table to five points on third-placed Juventus.
But the French-born player dubbed ‘Pipita’, like his father who was also a footballer, and who arrived in Turin on a 90-million-euro deal from Napoli a season ago, remains convinced Argentina may need him.
And former Juventus and Italy striker Luca Toni believes Higuain can convince by rediscovering the form that saw him score 34 goals last season.
“Trust me, he’s anything but a striker in crisis,” Toni told Turin sports daily Tuttosport.
“I look at him with the eyes of a ‘bomber’ and I’ve seen him grow since the start of the season.
“A striker has to worry when he fails to get any shots at goal, not when he’s missing from good positions.
“He would’ve scored twice against Lazio if he was luckier.
“I’m ready to bet that in May, he’ll have scored another 30 goals.”
Allegri, meanwhile, conceded Higuain had lacked some ‘luck’ at the weekend as he urged his side to refocus on Wednesday’s Champions League Group D game against Sporting Lisbon as they sit third behind Barcelona and the Portuguese.
“Higuain played well – he was effective at times and unlucky at others. Times like these help players to tap into that competitive edge which allows you to win games.
“Results like these do us good because they bring us back down to earth. It’s a very important match which could be crucial in getting out of the group and we have to win it. Sporting play football and defend well so we’ll need to be very patient.”