Of all Argentina's star-studded attack, perhaps no other man has done more to cement his place in the last four years than Manchester City star Sergio Aguero. From a useful squad member and impact substitute during the last World Cup and 2011 Copa America, El Kun is now an unquestioned member of the first team.
To get there, Aguero has had to work extremely hard; but more than anything, it has been a case of showing the talent that has been evident since the day he burst into the Independiente first team aged 15.
Just 21 when Diego Maradona's team kicked off in South Africa, the forward nevertheless made an instant impression. In the second group match against South Korea, he replaced Carlos Tevez and helped Argentina score in the very next minute. The then-Atletico Madrid man added an assist for Gonzalo Higuain in that same encounter, proving his worth to the squad.
Both in that World Cup and the Copa America, however, the tournaments followed a similar trajectory for Aguero. Devastating off the bench, as he showed in equalising against Bolivia, the youngster nevertheless failed to hold down a regular spot as the Albiceleste were eliminated in the quarter-finals two years running.
The real turnaround would come on the assumption of Alejandro Sabella as Argentina coach, after Sergio Batista's failure to lift the Copa America on home soil cost him his job. The ex-Estudiantes boss and Copa Libertadores winner knew what it took to win matches. Wayward talents such as Carlos Tevez, in equal parts devastating and disappointing, were less important than overall team cohesion.
Carlitos therefore found himself exiled from international duty, never appearing in a Sabella squad. The primary beneficiary was none other than El Kun. While still something of a national-team novice, the star now saw a massive obstacle to his presence in the Argentina team removed in the shape of his former Manchester City team-mate.
The last test for Aguero came early in qualifying. Having gone down to a historic defeat against Venezuela and drawing pitifully at home to Bolivia, the Albiceleste campaign was close to derailing before it had even begun. A conservative side built around a 4-4-2 formation flagged against Colombia in the heat of Barranquilla, down 1-0 at half-time and on the ropes.
In that time of crisis, Sabella turned to El Kun to turn round his team's fortunes. That was exactly what happened. Aguero formed a formidable attacking trident with Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain, giving the visitors extra width to trouble a Colombia setup which was too confident in bombing forward with their full-backs. The plan bore instant fruits.
After Messi dragged Argentina back into the game, Aguero was on hand to turn home minutes from the end to cap a comeback victory. He went on to score a total of five in qualifying, and the Albiceleste lost on just one other occasion as they finished top of the Conmebol standings and secured their passage to Brazil.
Playing on the left of the forward three, El Kun is now indispensable in the Seleccion's line-up. It is easy to see why. His close control, slick dribbling and flair in front of goal make him an able foil to Gonzalo Higuain's more direct talents; the classic "big-man, little-man" partnership with Messi pulling the strings a little further back.
He has also proved a worthy team player. Aguero put up with a place on the bench for years with a smile and patience, always entering with enthusiasm and the will to bring his side out of a sticky situation. This humility makes him a doubly valuable squad member, in a way Sabella deemed Carlos Tevez could not be.
Now established as one of Europe and the world's top strikers, El Kun is a massive asset for Argentina going into the World Cup. His unique talents and his ability to play for the team make him a key member of the setup, and an extremely important player for Brazil 2014.
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