The World Cup Alphabet: A is for…. Part 2

ARGENTINA

 

Heroes always seem to have a detested opposite. For every Luke Skywalker there’s a Darth Vader. For every Clint Eastwood there’s a Lee Van Cleef and for every Bob Murphy there’s a Justin Murphy.

 

In World Football that same can apply when it comes to some arch rivals. For all the fawning over Brazil over the years with their apparently happy go lucky skilful beautiful game reputation many just look at Argentina and almost hiss. Cheats, divers, dirty players.. all the stereotypes of what was wrong with the game in a vertical sky blue and white striped strip.

 

While it’s unfair to always label the Argies as the bad guys they have been involved in some controversial events of the years with their football a lot of the time mirroring their politics.

 

Argentina’s relationship with the World Cup goes back to day dot when it was held next door in Uruguay in 1930. This was after Italian and English immigrants had introduced the locals to the round ball game in the late 19th century. A player with the surname McAllister would play for the Argies against Australia in 1993.

 

Making the 1930 final against the hosts caused all kinds of diplomatic issues as they went down to the Uruguyans 4-2.  For various reasons Argentina was mediocre through the next couple of decades. They didn’t take part in the 1950 tournament in Brazil due to a beef with the hosts and chose to concentrate on local matters rather than jumping on a boat to some other part of the world. Sometimes it was down to the Government not wanting to see the team and the country connected with it be shamed.

 

In 1966 with Brazil already having two titles to their name the Argies had found some consistency again and first crossed swords with a country they would have a vitriolic rivalry with up to this day: England. At Wembley Stadium in a quarter final England won 1-0 but the game was mired in controversy. It was a fierce match with a host of Argentine players booked in the first half hour but equally dangerous tackles from the hosts were left unpunished by the ref.

 

On 35 minutes the Argentine captain Antonio Rattin saw another one of his players get hacked down. He complained and was sent off by the West German ref for ‘violence of the tongue’.  Ratting protested this decision about his protest by sitting on the red carpet on the side of the pitch where only Queen Elizabeth was allowed to walk and refused to budge.

 

After police were called across they escorted Rattin around to the players tunnel while the locals threw coins and food. Rattin picked up some of the chocolate bars thrown to take in to changerooms claiming afterwards that they never got those kinds of chocolates back in Buenos Aires. After the game, England coach Alf Ramsey told his players to not shake hands or change shirts with those ‘animals’.

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Rattin: Captain with a sweet tooth.

 

The Argentines said it was the theft of the century claiming an England-West German conspiracy to knock them out. Even some English players admitted in later years the ref punishing the Argentines for early fouls helped them defeat a superior opponent.

 

While President Peron saw the national team and the sport in general as a political tool to get the serfs onside the team was forgotten about in the times he was usurped in a coup. Before West Germany ’74 the team had to organise friendlies so players and staff could get paid so they could pay rent and eat. With Peron back in charge later in 1974 Argentina were awarded the 1978 World Cup but the introduction of his use of football for political gain would fall in to the wrong hands.

 

Two years before the tournament a military coup would usher in an era of persecution and control issued by a military junta installing ‘The Process’. A World Cup in Argentina was a perfect chance to get the locals whipped up in national fervour as the powers that be carried out their atrocities against political opponents.

 

This was through kidnapping, torture and murder.

 

On the pitch to say there were suspicions of involvement from the junta when it came to results is understated. Argentina needed to beat Peru by four goals to confirm a berth in the semi finals. With an Argentine born goalkeeper between the sticks for Peru they achieved it  and with some spare change pelting their neighbours 6-0.

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Can’t quite see the piano wire in this pic of the 1978 final (Flickr)

 

The Argies then went on to a maiden World Cup win in another controversial result against the Dutch. In the aftermath stories went around the football world. One such accusation was that of the Peruvian and Argentine Governments doing a deal so Peru could send over their more troublesome prisoners to Argentina so they could ‘disappear’. There was also the Argentine President visiting the Peruvian rooms before the game.

 

1982 in Spain was a disaster for the side keeping the same ageing stars from 78 and introducing a certain young starlet called Diego Maradona. The youngster couldn’t handle the pressure and was sent off in the game that eliminated them from the tournament. The game, against Brazil, saw Maradona deciding to kick a player in the balls. A war raging in the Falklands also didn’t help with the focus of the side.

 

By 1986 Maradona was a superstar with Napoli but the rest of the side were ‘battlers’ to say the least. The team only just qualified for Mexico ’86 leading to their under siege coach Carlos Bilardo to change the names of his kids and change schools as even they were getting death threats. Maradona though used all of this as captain. He used the war, the abuse, the doubters and the mocking to band the team together and through his own magic take his side to their second title.

 

There was controversy of course. Against England in a powderkeg quarter final with the memories of the Falklands War still fresh Maradona made his most controversial and celebrated contributions to the history of the tournament. His first goal was a blatant handball that has the poms incensed to this day. Makes the Kiwis and the underarm incident seem like a mere disagreement. VAR probably would have missed it anyway in this day and age.

 

The second goal was one of the greats. Skill, power, precision and aplomb. A player who divided opinions like moses parting the sea but he had delivered.

 

Check out this commentery for the goal..

 

 

Argentina would be dragged by Maradona to the final and another World Cup with an epic win over West Germany. This time they had delivered and for 90% of the time done it fairly and by the rules. By 1990 Maradona was still the greatest but the fast lifestyle of living in Naples and being kicked in every game he played in had taken their toll. The Argies fought their way to the final knocking out Brazil and the hosts on the way but would be outdone by the Germans. In probably the worst ever World Cup Final, two Argentine players were sent off in a spiteful effort. Normal service had resumed. The Argies were the bad guys again.

 

Despite a bevy of new talent replacing the heroes of 1986 including Maradona they had been humiliated in qualifying for USA 94 by Colombia. This was at home in Buenos Aires and 5-0 no less putting them in a play off. In this play off they would have to play the Socceroos to see who would go to USA 94.

 

The Argies needed something. They needed inspiration. They needed a hero. The Argentina FA go on the bat phone and got back Maradona. The disgraced superstar had been chased out of Italy after testing positive for cocaine and had hardly played. When the team arrived in Sydney in November 1993 Maradona played up the superstar angle whipping the local ex pay Argentina community in a frenzy like Jesus had resurrected and gone on tour with One Direction. A lot of those ex pats were only in Australia because of the former military regime.

 

Only just outlasting our boys over two pulsating games Argentina would go on to the tournament and look like an early world beater setting the tournament alight. Everything was coming together before a slim and ‘vibrant’ Diego against tested positive for a ban stimulant and was sent home. Argentina were eliminated in the second round.

 

From here they’ve kind of been a Richmond 1982-2016 except ninth for them was the quarter finals. In 1998 they were eliminated in Marseilles by some Bergkamp magic in the final minutes. This was after eliminating England again in the previous round in an epic match that saw David Beckham receive a red card. The 1998 side was coached by 1978 captain Daniel Passarella and carried some of the old memories of the junta not letting players have long hair and having players of high morals rather than some with reputations.

 

In 2002 they had the best squad on paper but didn’t make it out of the group stage. The early elimination left one of their great players in Gabriel Batitstuta, a veteran of three world cups, crying uncontrollably on the sidelines knowing his chance at winning that elusive World Cup was gone. This maybe affected Batigol so much he moved to Perth for a few years. This tournament also featured another clash with England but this time Beckham and his team had the last laugh.

 

In 2006 they scored one of the great team goals of the World Cup but would again go out at the Quarter Finals to Germany on penalties. In a cruel twist of fate they had tactically got it spot on against the Germans ready to unleash a young Leo Messi from the bench but an injury to their goalkeeper mean they couldn’t make any more subs. In 2010 and with Messi and supporting cast of stars the best this side of The Big Chill now in the side they were a chance. With Maradona as coach they could again fall to the Germans at the quarter final stage being humiliated 3-0.

 

In 2014 they finally clicked in Brazil making the final thanks almost single-handedly to Messi but would go down in extra time and again to the Germans for the third tournament in a row. They had the talent but not the nous. Not the resolve. Not the moral compass of a Nixon staffer to get the win like times before. Nice guys finish last in Argentina.

 

Now the side travels to Russia to attempt to make it win number three. This is the last role of the dice for not only Messi who is arguably the greatest of all time but also Sergio Aguero, Gonazlo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano. The end of a golden generation desperate to end the drought and give their long countrymen a chance to celebrate and celebrate as real winners, not with a military junta backing them or hand ball being missed.

 

A side of unquestionable talent over the years but also of unquestionable acts of unsportsmanlike behaviour, bad luck and misunderstandings. A history as fiery as their Latin tempers. Definitely the black hats over the history of the World Cup but a team capable of absolute beauty and passion..when they want to..but that’s never been part of the narrative.

 

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