The man who doesn't run alone

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- When you see him run, most people wonder where he gets so much energy. The same thing happened to his family when the little 3-year-old would break everything in his path. A doctor suggested that they start him off in soccer. Thus, he began to hit the little ball.

Argentina's Angel Di Maria had to make sacrifices to become a top player. And he was never alone. The beginnings in his native Rosario were not easy. There was no food leftover in the family's humble home in the barrio of La Ceramica, but there was contention. His parents bought him his first football cleats with great effort.

His mother, Diana, took him to the neighbourhood club by bicycle. When passing by the Rosario Central stadium she would say, "Someday you're going to play here." His father, Miguel, with characteristics on the field similar to those of his son, nearly made it into River's first team, but he suffered a serious knee injury during a game with friends that sidelined him from the game. He then worked for 16 years in a coal yard, under adverse conditions. From age 10, Angel began to help. By 15 he was already taking care of deliveries, opening and closing the bags of coal.

At 17, "Fideo" ("Noodle") managed to fulfill the dream of reaching the top flight that his father once had. At the call of Benfica, Miguel reminded his son that "the train only passes once." Upon being sold to Portugal, Angel asked his father not to work anymore and bought a house for his parents and sisters, Vanesa and Evelyn. His six friends from Perdriel are also very important. At 18, they all got the same tattoo -- Di Maria's is on his left forearm -- to feel closer together regardless of their distance apart.

- Kelly: Argentina built around group dynamics
- Kelly: Di Maria crucial to Argentina's hopes

The romance with the national team was immediate. He was crowned a U-20 world champion in 2007 in Canada, and it was his goal that brought gold to Argentina in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. He immediately arrived at the senior squad, then led by Alfio Basile, and celebrated his first goal in late 2009, with Diego Maradona then in charge.

"He's going to be one of the world's best; I love to watch him play," Maradona said.

Despite having played in all five of Argentina's World Cup matches in 2010, Di Maria was not satisfied with his performance. "I had to learn to defend, I struggled to adapt to a position where I don't play," he said. "I didn't perform well at all. I'm totally dissatisfied with my game."

The leap he made was superlative. Rosario Central signed him at the age of 7 after witnessing him score a brace in a local final, costing the club 25 balls. Fifteen years later, Real Madrid had acquired him for 25 million euros -- plus an extra 11 million in potential add-ons. His time in Portugal had come to a close, leaving behind a pair of league cups and a league title.

Then-Madrid boss Jose Mourinho changed the 155-pound left-winger's career. Mourinho placed him in a new position, on the right; Mourinho taught him the importance of sacrifice; and Mourinho disciplined him tactically. Under the Portuguese, Di Maria earned a place in the starting XI and won titles. But as Carlo Ancelotti replaced the departed Mourinho, Di Maria's future was no longer secure.

To make matters worse, the Argentine made a controversial gesture during a match against Celta in early 2014 after being substituted for record signing Gareth Bale. It did not go unnoticed. Although he attempted to explain himself, a rift had formed.

"Here they're always waiting for me to do something in order to kill me," he said with anger.

Despite the distractions, Di Maria continued endeavouring, playing and running -- just like in the national team's game against Bolivia in La Paz, in which he required the assistance of an oxygen tank after the match. He soon resolved his situation with Real Madrid, and was a key figure in obtaining their 10th Champions League title.

Di Maria's life is characterised by struggle, like his daughter Mia, born in April 2013, three months prematurely. During the two-plus difficult months the baby spent hospitalised, the support of his wife, Jorgelina, was very important. In return, he dedicated his goals to her by making the shape of a heart with his hands. Before each game, his mother blesses him, and his wife lights candles to St. Expedite.

The player who dreams of retiring in Rosario Central arrives in Brazil at the peak of his career. He's a vital player for Alejandro Sabella's side, so much so that he once captained the team in qualifying. He forms a formidable attack with Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, and Argentina rely on him to track back and defend when possession is lost.

"I run for my family, friends and neighbours," he said once in an interview. Looking back at his story, it's clear that Di Maria never runs alone.