BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — His nickname "Chiquito," or little guy, doesn't reflect the big role Sergio Romero has played in Argentina's World Cup campaign so far.
A backup goalkeeper in his club team, the 27-year-old Romero has been called the weak link in an Argentina squad packed with attacking talent.
But a string of crucial saves in Argentina's 1-0 win over Iran made him the team's most important player of that game, save for Lionel Messi.
Romero played down his role, saying "the important thing is that Argentina wins" and that he was just happy "to be able give the team a hand, just like they do for me."
Despite being benched at Monaco, Romero has remained a starter for Argentina since 2009. If he starts in the last Group F match against Nigeria on Wednesday he will reach 50 international caps. Umberto Fillol is the only goalkeeper with more appearances for Argentina.
Augustin Orion, backup goalkeeper for Argentina, said Romero's hold on the position in the starting lineup was well-deserved despite his lack of action at club level.
"He has achieved it with outstanding performances," Orion said.
One of them was against Iran, when Romero made three crucial saves to keep the game scoreless before Messi's injury-time goal gave Argentina its second hard-fought win in Brazil and a guaranteed spot in the round of 16.
"He was perfect. When we needed him he was there for us," said fullback Marcos Rojo.
Though he stands at 1.92 meters (6-foot-4), Romero is the shortest of four brothers and once considered following in the footsteps of older brother Diego, who plays basketball in the Argentine league.
He settled for football and played for Racing Club in Argentina before moving to Dutch team Alkmaar in 2007 at the age of 20.
A 2007 under-20 world champion and 2008 Olympic champion with Argentina, Romero became first-choice goalkeeper for Argentina's senior team in the qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup.
Months before this year's tournament, Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella insisted he still considered "Chiquito" as his top choice, calling him an "excellent goalkeeper who unfortunately isn't playing with continuity in his club."
Ironically, Monaco's first-choice 'keeper Danijel Subasic is only a substitute in Croatia's World Cup squad.