Diego Maradona is often regarded as one of the greatest soccer players in history; mainly due to his stellar performance in the 1986 World Cup, which led to Argentina’s 2nd World Cup. Of course, in the process of reaching the final, a key moment defined his legacy.
In the quarter-final match between Argentina and England, Maradona nailed the first goal of the match. Mind you, it wasn’t a regular goal. 51 minutes into the match, Maradona cut inside from the left and played a low pass to teammate Jorge Valdano. An English midfielder failed to clear the ball, instead it flew into the penalty area. Maradona continued his run. Goalie Peter Shilton tried to punch the ball out; but Maradona got to it first with his left hand to score the now infamous “Hand of God” goal. Shortly later, Maradona scored a legitimate goal, dubbed the ‘Goal of the Century’. England only managed to scored one goal, before bowing out of the tournament. Argentina went on to defeat (West) Germany in the final (3-2).
Who knew that this would be Argentina’s last shining moment in World Cup history; to date. For a team of that caliber, failing to make an impression following that win was not acceptable. Let’s recap the team’s World Cup history and as an added bonus, here are the Copa America runs as well.
1986: Maradona scores the ‘Hand of God’ goal. Argentina goes on to defeat England and eventually Germany for the World Cup.
1990: Lost final to Germany.
1994: Eliminated in Group Stage.
1998: Eliminated in Quarter-finals.
2002: Eliminated in Group Stage.
2006: Eliminated in Quarter-finals by Germany in penalty shootout.
2010: Eliminated in Quarter-finals by Germany; 4-0.
2014: Lost final to Germany
Essentially, the two times that Argentina won championship gold was during the final flare of the 80s glory. Luckily for them, it was in their own confederation (CONMEBOL).
By the late 90s and early 2000s, Argentina was nothing but a shell of its former self. The team was only relevant in some sense during the World Cup qualifiers or during the Copa America itself. One day, there was a glimmer of hope. A young man with countless potential made his way into the team, his name is Lionel Messi. In no time, it became obvious that Messi was the heir to Diego Maradona; even more as Messi’s success with Barcelona kept growing. Come the 2010 World Cup, after some decent exposure in 2006, Messi was primed to bring glory back to his country. Well, clearly that didn’t happen. Argentina ran through the group stage and Mexico (Round of 16) before meeting their old rivals; Germany. The anticipated close contest was nothing more than a glorified training session. Thomas Muller’s Germany made quick work of la Albiceleste with a 4-0 score. What made the loss even more sour is that Maradona was the coach at that time.
Before we knew it, four years passed and it was time for the 2014 World Cup. In this edition, the road to the final was tough, regardless, they made it. Who met them there? None other than Germany, for a third time in a row. For over ninety straight minutes of play time, it seemed like the game was going into extra time. Nope. Mario Gotze scored the winning goal in the final moments of the match. Thus Germany became four-time world champions, whereas Argentina settled for the unwanted 2nd place. Where was Messi in all of this? Nowhere near net. So, the championship drought continued.
That was just the World Cup. Sure, Argentina eventually won two Copa Americas, but in the end, what the nation and the team wants is to lift up the World Cup Trophy once again. Either ways, as another winless decade is coming to an end, there were two more chances to win gold. Messi and company made it to two consecutive Copa America finals, against Chile. Surely one of them had the former world champions walk out victorious. Negative. Chile won both finals in penalty shootouts, one in which Messi failed to convert.
1987: Fourth place
1989: Third place
1995: Eliminated in Quarter-finals
1997: Eliminated in Quarter-finals
1999: Eliminated in Quarter-finals
2004: Lost final to Brazil
2007: Lost final to Brazil
2011: Eliminated in Quarter-finals
2015: Lost final to Chile in penalty shootout
2016: Lost final to Chile in penalty shootout
Isn’t it quite ironic and fitting that every time it seemed like the championship drought was coming to an end, Chile and Germany trolled Argentina with stunning wins. Even more, the fact that Messi has failed to deliver, unlike his predecessor. Being the poster boy for a nation known for soccer has put a tremendous amount of pressure that has led to multiple choke-jobs.
Whether if you believe this to be some curse or a simple coincidence, that’s up to you, but the reality is that these champion-less decades will date back to the day that Maradona robbed another team of a potential spot in the final. It’s well deserved. At the current pace, Argentina might be going home early.