Football in Argentina has produced some of the greatest talents over many generations. Yet, for all their might and power, the Albiceleste have only two World Cups to show. They’ve finished runners-up on another three occasions, the last of which was as recently as the 2014 one in Brazil.
Of the 17 appearances in the tournament finals, Argentina have given us plenty of memorable moments. Not all of them stand out for good reasons, but the World Cup history wouldn’t have been the same without the its skyblue touch.
Now ahead of their Russian conquest, let’s look back at the 5 great moments in Argentina’s World Cup history.
#5 The nervy playoffs win over Australia (1993)
This wasn’t technically a World Cup match, but it certainly ensured Argentina did play one in USA 1994. A really dreadful qualification that concluded with a 5-0 demolition at the hands of Colombia condemned the 1990 runners-up to a playoffs round against Australia.
A 1-1 stalemate in Sydney in the first leg amped up the pressure as Argentina faced a real prospect of missing the flight. But Alexander Tobin’s own goal in the return leg sealed a slim 1-0 victory to seal qualification. The whole nation, who watched in bated breath, finally heaved a huge sigh of relief while the fulltime whistle triggered wild celebrations on the field.
Argentina just survived its biggest nightmare in decades.
#4 The 25-pass goal vs Serbia & Montenegro (2006)
After the disaster of Japan in 2002, Argentina returned to the 2006 edition with a talented bunch. Even though they weren’t outright favourites, Jose Pekerman’s squad had the capability to make it deep into the tournament. And they demonstrated their credentials in the 6-0 demolition of Serbia & Montenegro in a group game.
As many as 5 different players got on the scoresheet, including the then-18-year old Lionel Messi. But the best of the bunch was the second goal that was threaded by as many as 25 clinical passes in the Serbian half that culminated with Cambiasso nonchalantly finishing it into the back of the net.
Even though the concept of ‘tiki-taka’ wasn’t popular then, Argentina laid the blueprint with a well-worked goal which was also perhaps the best team goal scored at the 2006 Word Cup.
#3 The first final (1930)
In case you didn’t know already, Argentina’s first of the five World Cup finals came in the inaugural edition in 1930, which they lost to hosts Uruguay by 4-2. But the significance of the events is that it laid the groundwork for future success.
Back then when FIFA flagged off its most prestigious competition, only 14 teams participated and there was no real favourite. Uruguay was only favoured by the virtue of hosting the tournament, not by their might. But Argentina did impress, winning all their group games and also routing the US 6-1 in the semi-finals.
They may not have capped it off with a trophy, but it sowed the seeds of a bright future ahead.
#2 The first World Cup success (1978)
Almost half a century later, Argentina were back in the finals when they hosted the tournament in their backyard. Yet they weren’t the favourites. The likes of West Germany, Italy and Brazil had the odds in their favour. But led by an imperious Mario Kempes, Argentina cantered to the finals with just a single defeat in 7 games.
Netherlands were the opposition, who made it to the finals again after the 1974 loss. But a Kempes brilliance in extra-time ended Argentina’s long wait for its first Word Cup glory. They became only the 4th hosts then to become champions on home soil but even more than the record, the triumph was the consummation of the promise the nation had been making in the years leading up to it.
#1 The goal of the century (1986)
This is more of an individual brilliance, but such is Diego Maradona’s stature, that Argentina hold this goal in as high a regard as winning the World Cup itself. The former Napoli and Barcelona legend single-handedly drove Argentina to its second title that year, but the best moment of the campaign came in the quarter-finals against England.
Having restored parity in the match with the infamous ‘Hand of God’, Maradona followed it up with a preposterous goal, when he embarked on a slaloming run that saw him blaze past almost entire England side before nudging the ball beyond the goalkeeper to round off the greatest strike in World Cup history.
The diminutive striker took England apart all by himself, and by the end of the campaign, he had taken the world by storm. Don Diego sealed his status as an all-time great. Heck, maybe even the greatest alongside Pele.