Gonzalo Higuain came close to retiring two years ago but was convinced to continue by his severely ill mother, the Argentine forward told television channel TyC Sports on Wednesday.

The 30-year-old Juventus forward was undergoing a difficult period at that time with the national team, which had lost three successive major finals – the 2014 World Cup to Germany and back-to-back Copa America defeats to Chile the following two years.

Higuain was coming under fire from media and fans alike and his mother’s ill health was a huge concern. “I was at my lowest ebb, but in the end my mother got better, thank God. She’s fine now,” Higuain told the Argentine channel.

“When I found out about the seriousness of her illness, after the (2016) Copa America final in the United States, I was on the brink of retiring, but she asked me to keep going.”

Despite 31 goals in 69 internationals, Higuain has not played for Argentina for nine months but is part of the squad due to face Italy in a World Cup warm-up friendly in Manchester on Friday. And while he is delighted to have been called up by coach Jorge Sampaoli, Higuain insists that “life is not 100 percent about football”.

“Thanks to my family I’m stronger now, because I’ve been through some hard times – I suffered a lot with the national team,” he added. “I’m happy, things are going well for me. I’m relishing being back in the national team squad, I missed it.”

Argentina struggled to qualify for the World Cup and only a hat-trick from superstar Lionel Messi away to Ecuador in their final pool match saw the twice former winners scramble into the finals.

Yet Argentina will still head to Russia with lofty ambitions. “The aim is to win it,” said Higuain. “If the (Argentine) people hope we’ll win the World Cup it’s because we’ve set the bar high.”