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World Cup A-Z: Z is for Zabaleta

FINAL WORD: Pablo Zabaleta in action during the 2014 World Cup final for Argentina against Germany

FINAL WORD: Pablo Zabaleta in action during the 2014 World Cup final for Argentina against Germany

We conclude our City-centric World Cup A-Z by focusing on a true Blue legend who came agonisingly close to securing football’s ultimate prize in 2014… Pablo Zabaleta.

Z is for Zabaleta

Over the course of nine memorable years at City, passionate Argentine left-back Pablo Zabaleta was at the heart of the transformation in the Club’s fortunes.

A whole-hearted defender, who literally shed blood for the cause, Pablo won every major domestic honour available during his time at City, making more than 330 appearances for the Club.

Along with winning two Premier League title medals, Pablo also was part of the City side that lifted the FA Cup in 2011 as well as being part of the team which secured the League Cup in 2014.

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Pablo’s success wasn’t just restricted to club football however.

Over the course of more than decade, Pablo won 58 caps for Argentina – with the undoubted highlight coming at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.

Zabaleta played every single minute over a memorable four week stretch as, from a sluggish start, La Albiceleste motored through the gears to march all the way through to the final, only to agonisingly fall at the last hurdle against Germany.

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Argentina secured three hard-fought victories in the group stages, defeating Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1 and then overcoming Iran 1-0 thanks to a 91st minute goal from Lionel Messi.

That was followed by a dramatic group finale against Nigeria which Argentina edged again, winning 3-2 thanks in the main to brace from that man Messi.

Zabba and Co then took on Switzerland in the last-16 as the knockout stages got under way and were pushed all the way through 90 minutes and extra time by the Europeans before Angel Di Maria’s 118th minute winner settled a hard-fought game.

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That brought Zabaleta and City colleague Sergio Aguero into a match-up with Vincent Kompany’s Belgium in the quarter-finals and, once again, Argentina eked out a narrow 1-0 victory this time thanks to Gonzalo Higuain’s eighth-minute strike.

Argentina’s reward was a semi-final assignment with the Netherlands where the pair ground out a nervy, goalless draw with both 90 minutes and extra time failing to yield a goal.

That led to the drama of a penalty shoot-out which ended in a 4-2 win for the South Americans, paving the way for a World Cup final clash with Germany at Rio de Janiero’s iconic Maracana Stadium.

Zabba and his colleagues traded blow for blow with the Germans in what was a fascinating encounter.

After the 90 minutes had ended in a blank, the drama continued into extra time but, just when the final appeared destined for penalties, German substitute Mario Goetze conjured up a stunning 11th minute winner to break Argentina’s hearts and end Zabba's dreams of World Cup glory.

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