Gonzalo Higuain hoping to extinguish his old demons against Lazio

Posted on 20th September 2015


With the score level at 2-2, the ball was placed on the spot and fans huddled in together, holding their breath.

What happened next would shape Napoli’s future, granting them either Champions League or Europa League football and individually, had the possibility of exalting Gonzalo Higuain to something of a higher figure in the crazed footballing city of Naples, Italy.

But it wasn’t to be.

The 27-year-old sent his penalty over the bar in the 76th minute against Lazio and San Paolo’s punters fell back into their seats, shocked by what they had just witnessed. Stefano Pioli’s side would go on to convert two more chances, crushing Napoli’s Champions League dreams from what would’ve been an amazing comeback.

Of course in the aftermath of that glaring penalty miss, no one will remember el Pipita’s brace in the space of nine minutes that brought the Partenopei level. Out of that miss, which was his third effort saved out of six total last season, was born another demon, another nightmare in the mind of the former Real Madrid man.

If Higuain had the possibility of waving a wand to completely wipe his memory from July 2014 to July 2015, he’d do it in a heartbeat.

Although the forward scored 29 goals in all competitions for Napoli last season and two match-winners for Argentina between the World Cup and Copa America, Higuain most importantly, failed to rise to the occasion in the biggest moments of the past year.

It first started in the World Cup final when the forward was gifted an incredible chance from a headed back-pass from Toni Kroos that sent the Argentine one-on-one with Manuel Neuer. But the 27-year-old hurried his wind-up and scuffed the shot, firing it wide left.

Looking past his crucial domestic saved penalties, previously coming from matches where the club failed to win, Higuain had a date in the Copa America final against host nation Chile.

With the match in its final minute of added time, Lionel Messi burst through the centre of the pitch, beating two defenders before finding Ezequiel Lavezzi in space. The 30-year-old played a squared ball to an oncoming Higuain at the far post, but the forward only managed to hit the side netting in the dying seconds of the final that could have own the match.

Higuain then had a chance to right his wrongs in the penalty shoot-out, being chosen as the second kicker after Messi. But this time again, Pipita skied his effort over the bar.

Turning the clock back to the beginning of last season, it must be said that Higuain endured a heavy World Cup hangover, with the forward failing to score in the first seven Serie A matches of the season.

Flailing his arms outwards in frustration with his teammates was a common sight for the former River Plate marksman and his actions portrayed a thoroughly annoyed figure on the pitch.

Napoli’s new coach Maurizio Sarri noticed it as well. When asked about the Argentine this past summer, the 56-year-old responded, “Higuain can improve, lately when I’ve seen him he’s looked too nervous, if he played with a smile he could do more.

“He has to go out there and have fun. Whoever smiles and has fun on the pitch always wins in the long run.”

It felt like salt in the wounds for Napoli supporters when the Biancocelesti failed to reach the Champions League group stages after falling to Bayer Leverkusen in the play-off, so the atmosphere at San Paolo will be even more charged for a revenge match.

And when asked about the tasty fixture, Pioli understands that their last encounter bears no connection to this weekend’s clash, stating, “The 4-2 result in May was a wonderful night full of emotions, but that is the past and tomorrow is our present.”

Although a goal for Higuain against Lazio this weekend won’t help Neapolitans forget what could have been on the final matchday of last season, it will certainly aid in easing the pain.

With two goals to his name so far this term, Higuain is hoping his third arrives this weekend to help to extinguish the demons of his past that have haunted him for so long.

About the author – Matthew Amalfitano

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, the Independent, Betfair, beIN Sports USA, Squawka and others.

twitter: _MattFootball



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