Alejandro Sabella gets the last laugh with World Cup run

Questioned when he was chosen to lead Argentina, Sabella's managing has brought Argentina to the World Cup semi-finals - and personal vindication.

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella gestures during his side's quarter-final win over Belgium. Juan Mabromata / AFP / July 5, 2014
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SAO PAULO // When Alejandro Sabella was handed the task of reviving Argentina’s fortunes after a poor campaign at the 2011 Copa America, not everyone in his homeland was convinced he was the right man.

“I don’t know why they chose him,” said Cesar Menotti, who coached the team to the 1978 World Cup.

“I don’t know what his project is.”

Three years later, Sabella’s appointment looks like a stroke of genius by his bosses at the Argentina Football Association, as the team prepare for their first World Cup semi-final since 1990.

Under Sabella, nicknamed “The Magician” during his playing days, Argentina have developed into a formidable side that is again among the elite.

They may have won all their matches by one-goal margins, but they have shown a mental strength that was lacking four years ago under Diego Maradona.

Some say the team relies too much on four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, but if that is the case, it proves that Sabella made the right decision when he swiftly installed him as captain.

Unlike some of his predecessors, Sabella has not hesitated to tailor his team to make the most of Messi’s talents.

The results have been spectacular, with Messi for the first time consistently producing four goals in the finals.

“He’s the water in the desert. He finds solutions when we think there aren’t any,” said Sabella, whose rise to the top job in Argentinian football was a long time in the making.

He worked as an assistant to Daniel Passarella for several years, and was part of the Argentina staff at the 1998 World Cup.

However, it was not until Sabella was appointed Estudiantes manager in early 2009 that his career took off.

Within months, he guided them to the Copa Libertadores title, and followed up by taking the 2010 Apertura championship, effectively making him a shoo-in for the Argentina job in 2011.

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