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Copa America

How 'spectacular' Man Utd target Romero became Argentina's defensive king

8:00 AM EDT 6/21/21
Cristian Romero Manchester United GFX
The 23-year-old Atalanta star has wasted no time in proving that he is an elite talent at the back thanks to a string of fine performances

For the past two seasons, Atalanta have marked themselves out as one of the most exciting teams in club football.

Now, the Italians are taking the international scene by storm.

Germany's Robin Gosens put in a stellar performance, which included a goal and two assists, to take down Portugal 4-2 in perhaps the most exciting game to date in Euro 2020.

Aleksei Miranchuk, meanwhile, scored a stuning winner for Russia in their victory over Finland before Matteo Pessina found the net for Italy's only goal in their 1-0 win over Wales on Sunday.

On the other side of the Atlantic, centre-back Cristian Romero is making just as big of an impact, with his commanding displays at the heart of the Argentina defence showing just why the international rookie has attracted attention from the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United in recent months.

While he has slowly been building a solid reputation in Serie A, Romero was something of an unknown quantity back in Argentina even as he received his first international call-up for the June World Cup qualifiers.

He had played fewer than 20 games for boyhood club Belgrano before moving to Genoa at just 20 years old, meaning that even after winning the 2020-21 Best Defender award in Serie A, there were plenty who were not entirely sure what to expect from him.

Atalanta are convinced, in any case, and are soon expected to trigger the €25 million (£21.5m/$30m) purchase clause included in his loan from Juventus – a figure they will most likely double if or when he moves on, with United reportedly pushing hard for the youngster's signature.

Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni too put all his faith behind the new call-up. “He has all our confidence and is a spectacular kid,” he told reporters at the start of June. “He has everything it takes to be here for many years to come.”

And just as Scaloni predicted, Romero wasted no time in burying all remaining doubts from those who had not had the fortune to witness him in action.

The defender has started all but one of Argentina's four games to date this month, only missing out on the Copa America opener against Chile thanks to an injury he picked up in the previous meeting with Colombia.

In that time, he has stood out as an accomplished, steady performer at the back, adding strength to what has been an historically flimsy backline; and also managed to get up the other end and score, heading home against Colombia to net a memorable first goal in international colours.

Friday saw perhaps the greatest challenge yet for the 23-year-old, as he partnered Nicolas Otamendi against the formidable Uruguay duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Uruguay were admittedly under-par, but it is still to Romero's credit that the Celeste did not muster a single shot on target across the 90 minutes, as Argentina took down their rivals 1-0 to get their Copa campaign up and running.

“When you have players who help you adapt in the best possible manner it is much easier,” Romero explained following the Uruguay victory. “From day one, I have found a fantastic group of players who have helped me adapt well.

"I am grateful to the coaching team for the chance I was given because it's something I've been seeking for a long time. Now I am calm, doing my best and I know what wearing this shirt means.

“We are taking things one game at a time, but we clearly have a fantastic team and where we go depends only on us.”

Argentina's Copa America adventure continues on Monday with their third game of Group A, where the ever-awkward Paraguay lying in wait.

A win would guarantee them a place in the knockout stages and, most likely, send them through as one of the top two qualifiers, vital in ensuring they avoid runaway favourites and hosts Brazil until a hypothetical final.

Scaloni's team has shown a tendency to race out of the blocks before slowing down around the half-hour mark, from which point the defence is called upon with far more frequency to act.

In previous years, that would be a matter of great concern to the Albiceleste. Now, though, with Romero marshalling at the back, there is a new-found confidence over the team's ability to keep their opponents out, while the Atalanta man himself has won favourable comparisons with such a defensive titan as ex-Inter idol Walter Samuel, perhaps the nation's last real elite centre-back.

For now, watching Romero on the pitch, it is impossible to imagine that he has barely three international caps under his belt. The defender already looks like a natural at international level and that can only be good news for Argentina, who are desperate for a centre-back of true world-class quality.

Not to mention Atalanta,too, who are seeing his potential price tag rise with every commanding display.