If Qatar 2022 is the most controversial World Cup ever, then Argentina 1978 is now the second-most controversial. The tournament took place with the country under the control of a military junta, one that remained until 1983. The junta carried out rampant human rights abuses, as well as the disappearances of a rumoured 10,000 people.
There was even a clandestine detention centre near El Monumental, the stadium in Buenos Aires where the final took place. Amid allegations of corruption and bribery, Argentina won their first World Cup, with Mario Kempes and Daniel Passarella cementing their places as national team legends.
Emerging out of the dictatorship, Argentina has had a sometimes-troubled history since, but it cannot be denied that this amazing country – the eighth largest in the world – has had an immeasurable impact on the history of football, being perhaps the only country that has a legitimate claim to having produced the two greatest footballers of all time.
From the urban sprawl of Buenos Aires to the incredibly picturesque Lake District in the Patagonia region, the majority of the country’s 45 million people will be desperate for a return to the pinnacle of football, having lost the 2014 final to Germany in extra time.
After the maiden win in 1978, Argentina have gone on to make a distinct mark in international tournament history, having won 15 Copa Américas (a joint record), and another World Cup in 1986. 1986 was undoubtedly their crowning glory, with Diego Maradona leading the team to a win in Mexico, producing three legendary moments of World Cup history in the quarter-final against England and the semi-final against Belgium.
Two slaloming dribbles provided the first goal against England and the second against the Belgians, although arguably it is the Hand of God that has been more widely remembered around the world. Argentina’s recent World Cup history has been unlucky, losing out to a Mario Götze winner in the 113th minute of the 2014 final. Many fans will have Argentina as their second team, hoping that the GOAT can cement his status by winning a third World Cup for La Albiceleste.
Argentina finished second – behind Brazil – in CONMEBOL qualifying, winning 11 and drawing 6 of their games. In between, they also won the Copa América last summer in Brazil, beating the hosts 1-0 at the Maracanã thanks to a goal from Angel Di María.
Lautaro Martínez and Lionel Messi were Argentina’s top scorers in qualification, with 7 goals each, and will likely be tasked with scoring the majority of Argentina’s goals. All in all, La Albiceleste come into the tournament undefeated in their last 36 games, and as second favourites to win the tournament.
Key Players & Chances
Although not to his lofty expectations, Lionel Messi comes into the tournament in good form, having scored 12 and assisted 14 in 19 starts this season; he will obviously be Argentina’s main man. Di María’s absence from the 2014 final may well have been the difference between winning and losing. Fans will be hoping he can stay fit after recent scintillating performances for the national team, notably in June’s Finalissima at Wembley.
The midfield will likely balance on the tenacious Rodrigo de Paul and Leandro Paredes, but don’t let their physicality and fitness take away from their abilities on and off the ball. Cristian Romero will add some much-needed quality at centre-back, an area where La Albiceleste have been lacking in recent seasons. Lisandro Martínez has been a revelation in defence for Manchester United this season and will be hoping to have earnt himself a starting spot.
Finally, although Lautaro Martínez seems to have nailed down the starting striker spot, Julian Álvarez will make a mark on the tournament if given the chance. Perhaps an obvious opinion considering he regularly plays for Man City, but Haaland’s explosive form has meant that Álvarez’ footballing and finishing ability has often gone under the radar. This World Cup will likely be the last for the three best players of their generation: Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. With the quality in their respective squads, it’s fairly likely that we will see one of them win it.
Argentina are ‘destined’ to meet Brazil in the semi-finals according to most people’s tournament trees, so we may have to see one of these exit the tournament at that stage. Whatever happens, the route to the final is not an easy one. Anything is possible if players like Messi perform; can he obtain the prize that Argentines so crave, along with fairytale ending that his career deserves?
Fixture Dates & Times (Qatar time):
Argentina vs. Saudi Arabia, 22nd November, 1pm
Argentina vs. Mexico, 26th November, 10pm
Poland vs. Argentina, 30th November, 10pm
By: Chris Wilson / @wilsoncs97
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / @GabFoligno / Joe Allison / Getty Images