Sports News of Fri, 11 Jul 20141
Martin Demichelis - from Premier League flop to Argentina's defensive rock
Martin Demichelis was the laughing stock of Europe back in February when he hacked down Lionel Messi during Manchester City’s Champions League clash against Barcelona, a challenge that resulted in a red card and a penalty.
The jokes, videos and tweets went viral and football fans mocked the ponytailed defender.
Now Demichelis is one game away from standing alongside Messi as a World Cup winner as Argentina prepare for their World Cup final clash against Germany at the Maracana on Sunday.
As Demichelis toiled through his first few months in the Premier League, it was hard to imagine that the 33-year-old would become such an important player, not only in Manchester City’s title triumph, but in the Albiceleste’s bid to win a third World Cup.
The former Malaga centre-back struggled badly when he first joined City, making costly mistakes and looking out of his depth against the speed and physicality of Premier League strikers.
His season reached its nadir in that Champions League clash against Barcelona when he looked out of his depth, but Demichelis found his rhythm in the final months of the domestic campaign alongside Vincent Kompany and played a key role in his side’s title victory.
That form has continued into the World Cup.
Demichelis may not boast the same athletic qualities as the planet’s best defenders, but he has proven again in Brazil that he has the nous and awareness to be an asset for any team.
He did not feature in any of Argentina’s first four World Cup matches, but the former Malaga man was called up for the quarter-final against Belgium and, two clean sheets later, is a certainty to start against the Germans.
Demichelis has made a notable influence in shoring up a backline that conceded few goals but looked suspect at almost every attack prior to his introduction in the last eight.
The defender may have lost his ponytail but his has not lost his natural instinct for defending and has proven in the last two matches his natural awareness and reading of the game.
This is a man who thought his international career was over when he was blamed for a goal conceded against Bolivia in qualifying in November 2011. He played in just two of Argentina’s qualification fixtures and when asked in April about his summer plans replied: "Where do I see myself during the World Cup? I am 95% I think that I am going to be on holiday."
Demichelis had to wait 18 months between his 37th and 38th international appearances but has proven that Sabella made the right call in choosing the veteran in his 23-man squad for the World Cup.
In Argentina’s semi-final victory over the Netherlands on penalties, Demichelis was his team’s outstanding player after Javier Mascherano as he denied Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben any space around the penalty box.
Now his job is to do the same against Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and the rest of the Germany attack that smashed seven goals past hosts Brazil in the semi-final.
He will feel he has a point to prove after playing against Germany four years ago in the brutal 4-0 defeat to Joachim Low’s side in the quarter-finals.
But the former Bayern Munich man has proven already this season that he can prove his doubters wrong. And he is one match away from lifting the World Cup alongside the man who embarrassed him just a few months ago.