Argentina National Football Team
A lumberjack in world football, Argentina has always been a country of incredible zeal when it comes to football. There has always been a mythical atmosphere around football in Argentina. All the games played on the country soil are met with a great deal of skill but with an even bigger deal of emotion. It is certainly more than a sport for the Argentinians.
It is a common saying in the country that when the world plays football, God wears the sky blue and white shirt. Argentinians truly believe that football is a gift from the almighty above and treat it like a religion. This devotion to the game that places it on a high pedestal also disappoints them immensely when the national team does not achieve the success they deserve. After all, silverware is in their name.
How it all began
The name Argentina is said to have derived from the Italians, in the 16th century, who called the nation Terra Argentina, land of silver. After many variations of the name by various countries, the country was easily referred to as Argentina in the latter half of the 20th century.
Football, however, was brought to the nation in the 1860s. During that time, British communities had been established in Buenos Aires and the Brits formed sports clubs to collaborate with the natives and teach them football, cricket, tennis amongst others.
English immigrants, James and Thomas Hogg, were responsible for the formation of the Buenos Aires Football Club and had organized the first football match on Argentinian turf. The turf, funnily enough, was a cricket pitch and the game was initially a combination of the rules of football and rugby.
The Argentine Football Association (AFA) was founded in 1893 by another British immigrant, Alexander Watson Hutton, who is known as the father of Argentine football. It was the Brits who were behind the establishment of the Argentinian National Team and the oldest football clubs in Argentina such as Rosario Central, Quilmes and Newell's Old Boys.
The Argentinian National Team played their first official match in 1902 against fellow South Americans Uruguay in a very famous 6-0 win in Montevideo. The two nations would collaborate for the organization of the very first Copa Lipton and Newton Cup, both of which were won by Argentina.
After mostly playing friendlies against their Latin American counterparts, Argentina played their first Copa América in 1916 and won the tournament in 1921. They would go on to secure thirteen more Copa América titles.
The origin of the Olympic goal
A historic event happened in 1924 in a friendly against Uruguay which bewildered the viewers in attendance. Argentine winger Cesáreo Onzari curled the ball directly into the opponent's net from a corner kick. Despite Uruguayan players appealing to scrap it, the goal stood and was called Gol Olímpico because of Uruguay being the Olympic champions.
The matches between Argentina and Uruguay are always rough and this one was not any different. This game saw brutal tackles all over the pitch, aggressive supporters throwing bottles and ended with Uruguayan players walking off the ground with a couple of minutes still to play.
World Cup conflicts
La Albiceleste, as Argentina were known because of their sky blue and white jersey, were invited for the first edition of the World Cup in Uruguay in 1930. However, they were handed a 4-2 loss in the final against the hosts.
It was the beginning of a period mixed with defeats and misunderstandings on the international front for Argentina. An early elimination in the 1934 World Cup was followed by a refusal to participate in the next World Cup in France. After the Second World War, a conflict with the Brazilian Football Confederation restrained them from participation in 1950 which led to another Argentine refusal for the succeeding World Cup.
Another testament to what football means to Argentinians was displayed during their return to the World Cup in 1958. After a disappointing campaign rounded off by a 6-1 humiliation at the hands of Czechoslovakia, around 10,000 Argentinians waited for the team's arrival in Buenos Aires just to vilify them. That performance was known as El desastre de Suecia (The Sweden Disaster).
The Menotti era
The series of poor performances in the 1974 World Cup demanded a stringent overhaul in the Argentine Federation. César Luis Menotti was offered the head coach position who completely transformed the team and gave 16-year-old Diego Maradona his international debut in 1977.
The next year, Menotti led the Argentinian squad to their much elusive World Cup glory on their home turf. Star striker Mario Kempes was their best player and his six-goal contribution led La Albiceleste to the championship title. It was pandemonium after the final whistle at the Estadio Monumental, the country's main stadium and the finale venue, as captain Daniel Passarella was lifted off the ground on shoulders with him showing off the exquisite trophy.
La Mano de D10S
The subsequent campaign proved to be a disastrous one as Argentina could not replicate their earlier heroics and got eliminated in the group stage because of losses against Brazil and Italy. Maradona could not find his mojo and got himself sent off due to a kick out of frustration on Brazilian player Batista, summing up La Albiceleste's terrible tournament.
Argentina had a point to prove. Maradona, more so. Menotti stepped away from his position after the '82 tournament and was replaced by Carlos Bilardo to lead them to promise land.
La Albiceleste entered the World Cup in Mexico with all their hopes pinned on Maradona who was their captain at that time. It was an iconic tournament for the Argentine in all sorts. The most iconic moments occurred during the quarter-final matchup against England where he scored a goal with his hand. It was allowed under bizarre circumstances and was title la mano de Dios.
Just after some time, Maradona produced the goal of the century after he dribbled past half of the English team and tapped it into the net effortlessly. With his incredible leadership on and off the field, Maradona led his country to another World Cup glory and inscribed his name in the golden pages of Argentina's and football's history book.
The Little Flea
A nation would be more than glad to have just one player like Maradona playing for their country. Lucky for Argentina, they got two. Born in Rosario, Lionel Messi, with the same stature, the same number on his back and the same position Maradona played in, would unsurprisingly go on to become one of the greatest players the world has ever seen.
While breaking tons and tons of records, Messi also broke legendary striker Gabriel Batistuta's record for the most number of goals in the Albiceleste shirt. He also led the Argentina squad to the 2014 World Cup final and two Copa América but was often let down by poor teammate performances.
Resurrection in Quito
Argentina were on the brink of not reaching the 2018 World Cup in Russia with their hopes lying in their final qualifier against Ecuador. The early goal by Ecuador sent the whole Argentinian camp into a frenzy. It would have been the very first time that Argentina would not make the World Cup.
As it turned out, they did reach the World Cup thanks to an unreal hat-trick by the Messiah. It was just another example of how his display papered over the cracks of an underperforming team.
What's in store for La Albiceleste
The exit at the hands of France in Russia was a clear indication that the current squad still has a long way to go. Despite the players balling out for their respective clubs, they have not been able to help Messi and, as a result, the captain has been at the receiving end of unmerciful criticism.
There is still light at the end of the tunnel of course. Lionel Scaloni has been putting all his efforts into reinvigorating the Argentinian roster and providing a more competent supporting cast for Messi. With players like Lautaro Martínez, Rodrigo De Paul and Emiliano Buendía joining powers with superstars such as Paulo Dybala, Ángel Di María and Sergio Agüero, Lionel Messi will have quite a squad to rely on.
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