After criticism in the press and on social media following his first few performances at the Qatar 2022 World Cup, Rodrigo De Paul has continued his progression. In last Saturday’s Round of 16 win over Australia, the midfielder was finally the driving force for Argentina.
A succession of memes and negative comments had begun circulating online, especially in the wake of the Albiceleste’s opening 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia and, to some extent, following the subsequent 2-0 win over Mexico. De Paul was under pressure, but in the last two games he has been able to play a key role.
The improvement started in the 2-0 win over Poland in the closing match of Group C. His teammates emerged to publicly back a player who has earned the nickname "Motor" (or “engine”) at Argentina’s training base.
Defender Nicolás Otamendi praised the engine of La Scaloneta in a post on Instagram, describing De Paul as his “brother.” Others joined in, using variants on the phrase. "El motor de mi corazón” (the engine of my heart), posted Alejandro 'Papu' Gómez, "Mi Motorcito” (My little engine), added goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez, Leandro Paredes upped the level of effusiveness by writing "Motorcito de mi vida" (Little engine of my life).
After the match against Australia, it was the Argentine Football Association’s (AFA) turn to publicly praise De Paul.
"Operation Lock: Rodrigo de Paul. The Argentine was the player who recovered the ball the most during the match," posted the national team's official Twitter account after Saturday's victory.
The 28-year-old has excelled for Argentina in his role as a ball-winner, with fellow midfielders Enzo Fernández and Alexis Mac Allister also starting to shine.
The praise has served to recognise De Paul’s efforts after a difficult start to proceedings in Qatar. On the eve of the game against Australia, he himself had admitted he was experiencing pressure.
"I'm enjoying it in my own way. Life is moments, and I will take a lot of moments from here. Today there is so much responsibility, so much desire to make the Argentines happy, that it doesn't allow us to enjoy everything," he told reporters.
De Paul’s performances have coincided with Argentina finding form and, speaking ahead of the quarter-final clash with the Netherlands, the star says he is now ready to enjoy himself on the pitch.
"The truth is that what I said caused a lot of commotion. I enjoy myself in my own way. I don't enjoy it on the pitch. I did enjoy it when it was over, seeing so many happy faces, people crying in the stands," he explained in the mixed zone at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium after the win over the Australians, comparing himself to the fans on the terraces
In recent days, he has been more relaxed. Before the last match, De Paul enjoyed a visit from his partner, superstar singer Tini Stoessel. He posted a photo of the two of them sharing a kiss in Doha, accompanied by the message: "Recharging energy."
De Paul is one of four players to have played all four of Argentina's games at this World Cup, alongside goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, defender Nicolas Otamendi and captain Lionel Messi.
Scaloni kept faith in him despite a less-than-convincing start in the tournament. The coach has faith in De Paul, a player who has practically been an ever-present during his time in charge of the national team.
He took over on an interim basis after the disappointment of the Russia 2018 World Cup, which brought the 'Jorge Sampaoli era' to an end. Since then, De Paul has missed just seven games.
On Friday, against the Netherlands, the Atletico Madrid player will once again start. And he’ll try once again to be the driving force taking La Scaloneta into the semi-finals.
by Diego Reniares, AFP