Argentina in FIFA World Cups: Of Diego Maradona’s feat of gold and Leo Messi’s pipe dream! 

The Argentina football team has reached the World Cup final five times in 17 appearances.

By Aarish Ansari
Picture by Getty Images

Argentina have for long been one of the finest football teams in the world and enjoy a storied past that includes some stellar performances at the FIFA World Cup.

Nicknamed La Albiceleste, the Argentina football team has made 17 appearances at the FIFA World Cup, missing the competition only four times in 21 editions.

Argentina withdrew from the football World Cup in 1938, 1950 and 1954 due to disagreements with hosting rights and political reasons. The team’s absence from the competition lasted for 24 years since no FIFA World Cup was held in 1942 and 1946 due to the Second World War.

The South American football giants failed to qualify for the quadrennial event for the first and only time in 1970.

However, the golden years of Argentina football started in the 70s and saw the nation reach the pinnacle of the sport in the coming years.

How many times Argentina won FIFA World Cup?

Argentina have won the FIFA World Cup two times – in 1978 and 1986. They have reached the final five times, including a second-place finish in the inaugural edition in 1930.

1978 - Argentina’s first World Cup triumph

When Argentina lifted the football World Cup trophy for the first time in 1978, Daniel Passarella was the captain and Cesar Luis Menotti was the manager.

The star of the tournament, however, was El Matador Mario Kempes.

Boosted by Mario Kempes’ legendary scoring prowess and backed by a roaring home crowd, Argentina made it to the second round of the competition after finishing second in Group 1. They beat Hungary and France by similar 2-1 margins but lost to Italy 1-0.

The second round saw Argentina beat Poland (2-0) and Peru (6-0) and were held to a goalless draw by Brazil. But the two wins and a draw were enough for the white and sky-blue striped team to top the standings and advance to the final.

The 1978 FIFA World Cup final was a closely fought affair with both Argentina and the Netherlands scoring one goal each at the end of regulation time.

It was Mario Kempes once again who came to the rescue and put the South American team ahead in the added extra time before Ricardo Bertoni sealed the fate with a late strike at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires.

Mario Kempes celebrates after putting Argentina ahead against the Netherlands in the 1978 FIFA World Cup final.
Picture by 2002 Getty Images

Argentina won the final 3-1 and Mario Kempes was awarded the Golden Boot for being the highest goalscorer of the 1978 World Cup with six goals. He also took home the Golden Ball award, given to the outstanding player of the tournament.

1986 – Maradona’s Hand of God and Goal of the Century

The 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico witnessed Diego Maradona at his peak form. He played an integral role in leading Argentina to their second title in three editions.

Such was the might of Maradona and the Argentinians that they went unbeaten throughout the tournament.

First, Argentina topped the group stage with wins over South Korea (3-1) and Bulgaria (2-0) and a draw against defending champions Italy.

The knockout rounds saw La Albiceleste see off Uruguay (1-0), England (2-1) and Belgium (2-0) before facing West Germany in the final. Maradona scored the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal and the Goal of the Century against England in the quarters.

Argentina won the 1986 FIFA World Cup final against West Germany 3-2 through goals from Jose Brown, Jorge Valdano and Jorge Burruchaga.

Maradona was awarded the Golden Ball for his five goals and five assists.

Argentina’s Diego Maradona scored five goals at the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
Picture by Getty Images

Argentina came close to defending their title in 1990 but lost the final to West Germany. The South American nation finished second in 2014 as well.

Diego Maradona currently holds the record for the most appearances (21) for Argentina in the FIFA World Cup, followed by Javier Mascherano (20) and Lionel Messi (19).

Gabriel Batistuta is the highest goalscorer for the blues and whites at the football World Cup, with 10 goals across three editions. Maradona has eight while Messi has six.

Interestingly, Argentina talisman Lionel Messi has never won the FIFA World Cup. In fact, that is the only trophy missing from the striker’s packed trophy cabinet. He will be leading the team at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

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