Bosnia cameo heralds resurrection of Gago
Brasilia: Fernando Gago`s game-changing second half contribution in Argentina`s 2-1 World Cup win over Bosnia-Hercegovina provided a pivotal moment in the elegant midfielder`s second coming as a world-class talent.
Gago`s intelligent ball distribution, tactical sense, appreciation of space and forward impetus helped drag Argentina out of their slovenly start to click into gear and ensure they began their Group F campaign with three points.
Four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi for one gave his seal of approval to Gago`s impact.
"Fernando knows me and plays in a way in which his first pass option is me," said the Barcelona star, whose second-half goal against Bosnia turned out to be the match-winner.
"We have a lot of understanding between us, when he came on we had a lot more of the ball and I could push up more because he was too," he said from Argentina`s base camp at Cidade do Galo near Belo Horizonte.
But for a recent ligament injury which disrupted his World Cup preparation, Gago might well have started that game.
He`s almost certain to start the next against Iran on Saturday.
After coming under fire for his negative first half tactics, in which he played a 5-3-2 formation, coach Alejandro Sabella admitted he had made a tactical error.
But he insisted he had left Gago on the bench because he didn`t want to risk him from the start and perhaps lose him for the entire tournament after his recent injuries.
"They both played really well, Gago and Pipi (Gonzalo Higuain)," said Sabella when trying to explain why two such crucial elements in the victory had started on the bench.
Referring to Gago, he added: "He combined really well with Javier (Mascherano) in the distribution of the ball."
It was perhaps telling that rather than his performance being an expected confirmation of Gago`s unquestioned abilities, it was instead something of a reawakening for an almost forgotten prodigy.
It was seven years ago that Gago, who is married to retired tennis player Gisela Dulko, walked into the Bernabeu as one of Real Madrid`s new breed of young signings alongside Higuain, the other player Sabella introduced to such positive effect at half-time in the Maracana on Sunday.
Like Gago, his Real dream also turned into a nightmare and ended in unfulfilled departure.
In his early career, in part due to both his nationality, club side and position, Gago was often compared to compatriot Fernando Redondo, who won the Champions League twice during a six-year spell as Real`s deep-lying midfielder.
Gago`s first half-season in Madrid ended with a league title, which was defended in his first full season.
However, a combination of injuries and loss of form meant that he soon lost his place in the team.
Under Jose Mourinho, Gago found himself playing second-fiddle to Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira.
With his national team place under threat too, Gago went out on loan to Roma in 20011/12 where he gradually returned to form and prominence.
Yet upon his return to Madrid he was immediately sold to Valencia, although that move didn`t work out and half a season in he was loaned to Velez Sarsfield in his homeland.
The familiar surroundings at last saw Gago start to rekindle his very best form and having won the Argentine title with them, he rejoined his formative club Boca Juniors at the start of last season.
Now, at the age of 28, Gago is back to his best and dictating play and tempo for both club and country.