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Argentina – ‘La Albiceleste’

Argentina - 'La Albiceleste'
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Meet Argentina, one of football’s most successful and passionate national teams with 17 major titles to their haul.

Official name:Argentina national football team
Known as:Argentina, La Albiceleste
Year formed:February 21, 1893
City:Buenos Aires
Country:Argentina
Stadium: El Monumental
Colours: Blue/White (Home) | Navy Blue (Away)

Nicknamed ‘La Albiceleste’ (The White and Sky Blues), Argentina is perhaps one of the most popular national teams. They have a long and rich background in football. While their past exploits have won them 17 major honours, including two World Cups and 14 Copa America titles.

The Argentinians love their football, with many top-talents hailing from the South American nation. Among them include Alfredo Di Stefano, Mario Kempes, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.

History

Mediocre World Cup performances

Founded in 1901, Argentina spent its first couple of years playing friendlies. They mostly met South American teams, namely Uruguay. It remained that way until 1916. When the country hosted the first Copa America.

Although La Albiceleste failed to win that year and in the next three editions. It wasn’t until 1921 when things changed. Again on home soil, they lifted the Copa America trophy for the first time. Not a single goal was conceded as the team stormed to victory in front of their supporters.

A further three Copa America titles came their way before Uruguay hosted the inaugural World Cup in 1930.

Argentina performed strongly in the competition. Beating France 1-0 in their first match set the tone, with convincing victories over Mexico and Chile securing top spot in Group 1. A 6-1 victory over the United States followed in the semi-finals. However, Uruguay beat them 4-2 in the final itself to win the first World Cup.

The Argentinians only played one more World Cup game until 1958 for political reasons and the world war.

In between that time, the national team won another seven Copa America crowns under Guillermo Stabile. So hopes were high for their big comeback in 1958. Especially after their championship-winning performances of the previous year. But it turned out fate had other ideas in Sweden.

Without several key players, Stabile’s men suffered a group-stage exit. They also fell to a humbling 6-1 defeat to Czechoslovakia. Branded as ‘The Sweden disaster’, it was one of the national team’s worst losses ever.

The World Cup struggles continued over the next two decades despite more Copa America success. One quarter-final appearance in 1966 was the best they managed. These were dark times for Argentinian football.

The Menotti-era

When Cesar Luis Menotti took charge of the national team in 1974, nobody could have foreseen what would happen. He changed Argentinian football for the better. Even today, ‘El Flaco’ (‘The Slim One’) is still rated as one of Argentina’s greatest coaches in history.

Menotti coached La Albiceleste for the next eight years, making countless changes in the process. He increased preparations for major competitions; paving the way for more everyone to get in sync. While more players began trying out for the national side. It was the dawn of a new era.

Eventually, Menotti put together a squad comprising only one player outside of South America in Mario Kempes.

What happened next changed Argentinian football history forever, with Menotti’s side winning the 1978 World Cup. They defied all odds to claim glory on home soil for the first time.

Gonella, the referee of Italy looks at his watch as an Argentinan player lies injured on the ground
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Kempes got the ball rolling by scoring the opening goal in the final against the Netherlands. Just eight minutes from time, however, Dick Nanninga equalised to send the final in extra-time. It set-up another tense 30 minutes of a match already filled with fouls, confetti and a tense atmosphere.

Eventually, Kempes restored Argentina’s lead before Daniel Bertoni slotted in a third to seal them a first World Cup title. The scene at the Estadio Monumental was electric, with white confetti covering the entire pitch. History had been made in Buenos Aires. And a better future was imminent.

Enter the Golden Boy, Diego Maradona.

Despite debuting in 1977, Diego Maradona didn’t make the World Cup-winning squad in the following year. Menotti felt the 17-year-old was too young back then. Therefore, he starred in Argentina’s 1979 FIFA World Youth Championship in Japan instead.

Fussball : WM 1982 in Spanien , BRA - ARG 3:1
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After making a name for himself in East Asia, Maradona returned to the senior team. He soon scored his first international goal against Scotland. Two further appearances in the Copa America followed, which saw Argentina suffer a group-stage exit. Although Diego still made his mark by scoring against Brazil.

The then-Argentinos Juniors star soon became an integral part of Menotti’s squad and provided fans hope of a more prosperous future.

But even Maradona wasn’t enough to save Argentina from a disastrous defence of their World Cup title in 1982. Amid the Falklands War, the Argentines struggled to bring their A-game to Spain. They barely escaped the group-stages before suffering a second-round exit at the hands of Italy. This performance prompted Menotti to resign from his post as manager.

Although Argentina soon returned to their prominent best under Menotti’s successor, Carlos Bilardo, in time for the 1986 World Cup. The ex-Sevilla coach deployed a 3-5-2 formation, which worked wonders. It set them on course for a second world title.

Argentina v West Germany 1986
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Leading the charge in Mexico was Maradona, who was the star performer in the tournament. Even Michel Platini, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Hugo Sanchez paled in comparison. He was simply on another level altogether. His five goals and assists combined made up 10 of Argentina’s 14 goals.

The player’s most memorable moment, though, was his infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the quarter-finals.

Post success

After their success, Argentina suffered back-to-back exits in the 1987 and 1989 Copa Americas respectively. It set the tone for an under-par display in the following World Cup. While they reached the final again, the team performance was a far cry from the one in Mexico. Not helping matters was Diego Maradona’s toe injury.

Bilardo’s squad suffered a shock opening-day defeat to Cameroon in the 1990 World Cup. And while they progressed past the group stages, it wasn’t convincing. In fact, they were lucky to progress as one of the best third-placed teams.

Goalkeeper Nery Pumpido, meanwhile, also broke his leg in the group stages. But his replacement, Sergio Goycochea, stepped up beautifully in his absence. The Racing Club keeper became a key figure by helping Argentina win two penalty shootouts.

ITA: World Cup 1990 - Argentina v Germany
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For the final itself, however, Goycochea nor Maradona could spare Argentina of a 1-0 defeat to West Germany.

The Argentinians then experienced a reversal in fortunes during the following years. Despite suffering a last-16 exit in the 1994 World Cup; they won back-to-back Copa America titles.

While Maradona’s personal issues off the pitch became public knowledge to everyone. He reached an all-time low by testing positive for ephedrine in the World Cup. Therefore, Argentina lost their star man.

The 27-year trophy drought

After the fiasco in the United States, Maradona never played for his country again. It was the dawn of another new era, which has been a huge disappointment. In fact, Argentina haven’t won silverware since the 1993 Copa America.

Many talented footballers have for the national team over the last 26 years such as Gabriel Batistuta, Javier Zanetti, Diego Simeone, Javier Mascherano, Juan Roman Riquelme and Lionel Messi.

But failure has been a constant theme, with not even Messi able to reverse their fortunes. They’ve had some near-misses in the past, namely finishing runners-up in the 2014 World Cup. But even a six-time Ballon d’Or winner isn’t enough these days.

Germany v Argentina: 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final
2014 World Cup final. (Source: GettyImages)

For whatever reason, Messi hasn’t become the saviour that so many hoped for. He’s scored a record 70 goals in 138 matches for La Albiceleste, along with 45 assists. Yet, luck has never been on his side in the international scene.

To help their star man, the Argentine Football Federation has appointed several coaches. From Jose Pekerman to even Maradona, nothing has changed.

Although there is still hope for the future. Especially with the new talented young players in the squad. And with Messi still going strong, it’s safe to say Argentina got every reason to hope.

Rivals

  • Uruguay.
  • Brazil.
  • England.
  • Germany.
  • Nigeria.

Records

All-time record appearances

PosPlayerGames
1Javier Mascherano147
2Javier Zanetti143
3Lionel Messi (*)138
4Roberto Ayala114
5Diego Simeone106
6Angel Di Maria (*)102
7Sergio Aguero97
8Oscar Ruggeri 97
9Sergio Romero (*)96
10Diego Maradona91

(*) = Active

All-time record goalscorers

PosPlayerGoals
1Lionel Messi (*)70
2Gabriel Batistuta54
3Sergio Aguero (*)41
4Hernan Crespo35
5Diego Maradona34
6Gonzalo Higuain31
7Luis Artime24
8Daniel Passarella23
9Leopoldo Luque21
10Jose Sanfilippo21

(*) = Active

Major honours

FIFA World CupCopa AmericaFIFA Confederations CupOlympics
2x14x1xGold – 2x

Sources