Ranking Argentina's 30 Greatest World Cup Moments

Daniel EdwardsFeatured ColumnistMarch 28, 2014

Ranking Argentina's 30 Greatest World Cup Moments

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    CARLO FUMAGALLI/Associated Press

    From the very first tournament onward, Argentina have boasted a rich history in the World Cup. With two winners' medals and two further appearances in the final, few teams have made such an impact on the competition as the Albiceleste. 

    Naturally enough then, picking the side's greatest moments from 1930 to 2010—a period of no less than 80 years—is never going to be an easy task. 

    From their greatest wins to their cruelest heartbreaks, and including in the middle some of the greatest goals ever to bless the painted lines of a football pitch, here are 30 of the most memorable moments of the Argentine national team.

30. Squeezing Past Australia

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    Argentina are not accustomed to fighting tooth and nail for a World Cup place. But in 1993, despite possessing a squad packed to the brim with talent, the Albiceleste were in serious danger of missing the flight to the United States. 

    A 5-0 demolition at home to Colombia was the nadir of a qualifying campaign that condemned the side to a two-legged play-off against Australia. And when the side were held to a 1-1 draw in Sydney, Australia, tensions could not have been higher. 

    Finally, the decisive moment arrived. Australia's Alex Tobin put past his own keeper with just over half an hour to play, and by the slimmest of margins the South Americans progressed to that ill-fated World Cup. 

29. Sorin Nutmegs R10

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    It may not be a defining moment in Argentine World Cup history, but it is one Juan Pablo Sorin will never forget. Perhaps, late at night, Brazil legend Ronaldinho wakes up in a cold sweat recalling the day the full-back put the ball through his legs. 

    The playmaker's reaction to the move also suggests that he really was not very happy with the momentary turning of the tables. 

28. Tevez Wonder Strike Sinks Mexico

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    Carlos Tevez's first strike against Mexico in the 2010 World Cup was fraught with controversy. There was more than a hint of offside as the striker nudged in to open the scoring; but there could be absolutely no doubt about the second of the match. 

    Taking the ball on the edge of the Mexico area, Carlitos turned sharply and opened up a bit of space to fire. He caught the ball perfectly and sent it screaming into the top of the net, opening the way for Argentina to enter the quarter-finals. 

27. Palermo's Heroics, Maradona's Dive

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    Martin Palermo spent almost his entire career on the fringes of both European and international football. A supremely effective goalscorer, the Boca legend nevertheless struggled to show the same form in a more demanding arena, failing to make his mark at Villarreal. 

    But in 2009, the burly striker became Argentina's saviour. Tied 1-1 in qualifying with Peru and needing a win, El Titan stepped up in the last minute to poke the winner home in the midst of a deluge in Buenos Aires. 

    Maradona dived head-first along the Monumental turf in celebration, and a subsequent victory over Uruguay confirmed the Albiceleste's place in South Africa. 

26. 'They Cut My Legs Off'

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    Perhaps it is not the happiest moment of Argentina's or Diego Maradona's World Cup history. But the reaction to the diminutive star's ejection from the 1994 World Cup for alleged doping offences did give us one of the most memorable interviews ever held. 

    "They have cut my legs off," a distraught Diego told cameras, as he prepared for an early exit from the United States. Without their talisman the Albiceleste soon followed, crashing out in the last 16 to Romania. 

25. Kempes Opens His Account

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    Valencia forward Mario Kempes was the exception to the rule in Argentina's 1978 World Cup squad. In a team entirely composed of domestic players, the Cordoba native was the only man plying his trade out of the country. 

    Kempes went on to steal the show with six goals, but it was the timing that really counted. This double to sink Poland in the second round was the first of three two-goal hauls on the way to lifting the trophy, all six of his strikes coming in the tournament's decisive games. 

24. Free-Kick Genius Ties Against England

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    It was a moment of subtlety nobody in the England side expected. With the entire wall bracing itself for a Gabriel Batistuta bomb, a dangerous free-kick yielded something entirely different. 

    The striker ceded the ball for Juan Sebastian Veron, who played a delightful pass for Javier Zanetti. The tireless Inter star was left clean through with David Seaman, and made no mistake in converting and dragging England back to 2-2 in the 1998 second round. 

23. Platini's France Beaten by Hosts

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    It is easy to think that the triumph of Cesar Menotti's Argentina at home in 1978 was a fait accompli. The truth is not so simple, however. The Albiceleste had to fight tooth and nail throughout the tournament to achieve their moment of glory. 

    Having come from behind to beat Hungary, the hosts were in another struggle when the great Michel Platini cancelled out Daniel Passarella's penalty. But Leopoldo Luque was on hand to net a late winner, sending the French team home early. 

22. A Famous Spain Win

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    Much-maligned for the controversy that the 1966 quarter-final brought, the Argentina team of that World Cup was in fact supremely talented. An unbeaten passage through the first round included an accomplished victory over a strong Spain side. 

    The game was decided by a 12-minute goal flurry. Luis Artime opened the scoring for the South Americans after 65 minutes, only to be pulled back by Real Madrid legend Pirri almost immediately. 

    But Artime was not finished. The striker who—with 24 goals in 25 games—was perhaps Argentina's most prolific hit-man ever, netted again to break Spanish hearts, announcing the Albiceleste's arrival in England. 

21. Caniggia Strikes vs. Brazil

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    Diego Maradona and Claudio Caniggia have all the appearances of a perfect football partnership. The two capricious talents would have precious little time together in international colours, but when they shared a pitch it was rarely dull. 

    The duo's crowning moment came in a tense 1990 last-16 clash against Brazil. In the video above, Maradona appears to be setting off on the kind of run which took him to the summit of world football against Belgium and England, but this time, he sees a team-mate. 

    A perfect right-footed pass finds an open Caniggia, who rounds the keeper with ease and slots home for the game's only goal. 

20. Celeste Beaten in Mexico

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    Argentina's march to the World Cup in 1986 during the knockout stages began with what was arguably their toughest game of all. Uncompromising Uruguay never give an inch when playing against their big brothers on the other side of the Rio de la Plata, and that last-16 game was no exception. 

    The Albiceleste finally prevailed by just one goal, through Pedro Pasculli. The striker had, like Maradona, starred in Argentinos Juniors, and he stepped up just before half-time to bury a stray ball in the area and keep Carlos Bilardo's team moving forward. 

19. Higuain a Triple Threat

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    Gonzalo Higuain was one of the best finds made by Diego Maradona during his explosive stint as national team coach. Pipita was just 22 and equipped with little international experience when called upon to lead the Argentina attack during South Africa 2010, but he responded magnificently to the challenge. 

    Only Guillermo Stabile (1930) and Gabriel Batistuta (1994 and 1998) had recorded hat-tricks for the Albiceleste at a World Cup. But the fearless youngster equalled his illustrious predecessors with a display of ruthless finishing against South Korea, eventually finishing the competition with four strikes. 

18. Dieguito's 1st Goal

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    Despite a career that had more ups and downs than a roller-coaster, Diego Maradona still managed to represent his country in an impressive four consecutive World Cups. In both his first and last, the campaign was ultimately to end in disappointment. 

    On the verge of a world transfer-record-breaking move to Barcelona, the Boca Juniors star hit the first of eight World Cup goals against Hungary, later adding a second in a 4-1 rout. 

17. Dieguito's Last Goal

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    It is a measure of the mythical status Maradona has in Argentine football history that so many of his nation's greatest moments have the little legend right in the forefront. Diego had worked wonders to get into shape for the 1994 World Cup, and his first appearances had everyone awaiting glory. 

    The No. 10 capped off a flowing team move to smash home against Greece and his manic celebration showed his delight at being back in national colours. The joy was short-lived, however; a failed drugs test ensured that would be Diego's last goal in an international match. 

16. The 1st Final

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    Argentina's 1930 World Cup final reverse to Uruguay has the distinction of being one of only two defeats on this list. It is worth mentioning, however, for a scintillating game of football was played between the Rioplatense neighbours that on another day could well have gone to the visitors. 

    The Celeste were double Olympic champions and had advanced to the final scoring 11 goals and conceding just one. Pablo Dorado put them into the lead early on, but Argentina hit back, and goals from Carlos Peucelle and Guillermo Stabile had them with a slim advantage at half-time. 

    It could not last, as the relentless Uruguayans prevailed 4-2 after the break to the delight of a packed Estadio Centenario. But the Argentines held their own against the best in the world, and the game was not regarded as a failure by local press or observers. 

15. Penalty Drama in Naples

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    The atmosphere for the 1990 semi-final was already red-hot, but Diego Maradona did his best to raise the pressure even further. The diminutive genius, never short on words, called on his beloved Naples fans to cheer for Argentina rather than Italy ahead of the match. 

    The San Paolo faithful could not accept his desire, as recalled by FIFA.com. The fans hung a banner that told him "Maradona: Naples loves you, but Italy is our homeland," while refusing to boo the No. 10 as had occurred throughout the tournament. But the entire crowd was on a knife edge when a 1-1 draw took the game to penalties. 

    Goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea became the Argentine hero, guessing correctly to keep out Aldo Serena and send his nation to their second consecutive final. 

14. Battle Royale in England

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    If there was ever any doubt that Argentina were a force to be reckoned with on the world stage, it evaporated with a typically combative, pugnacious performance against eventual winners England in 1966. The Albiceleste may have lost, but no one questioned their will to win after a brutal 1-0 defeat. 

    Argentina were a strong team had gone unbeaten through the first round, drawing with West Germany and only missing out on the group summit through the vagaries of goal average.

    England prevailed in the next round only through a late goal by Geoff Hurst, and while Antonio Rattin's sending-off and a subsequent melee on the pitch soured matters, the Three Lions were definitely rattled by the talented South Americans. 

13. The World Cup Debut

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    It seems almost a different age now—almost a century ago. But Argentina have been a world force ever since the first World Cup, held in Uruguay in 1930. 

    Playing just across the Rio de la Plata estuary, the Albiceleste wasted little time in making their mark on the competition. France were downed 1-0 in their inaugural World Cup match, played at the Parque Central home of Nacional. 

    Argentina's goalscorer on the day was one Luis Monti. The midfielder has the distinction of playing World Cup finals with two different nations; four years later, he was on the winning side for Italy as they downed Czechoslovakia. 

12. 6 of the Best

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    It is one of the most, if not the most controversial, games in the long history of the World Cup. Hosts Argentina needed a big win over Peru to advance to the final of the 1978 World Cup, and they did it in style with a 6-0 thrashing of their South American neighbours. 

    We may never know for sure what shady deals were struck prior to that decider, although conspiracy theories such as this one put forward by the Daily Mail still continue to circulate.

    What is clear, though, is the result—two goals from Mario Kempes, a Leopoldo Luque double, and strikes from Rene Houseman and Alberto Tarantini, giving the Albiceleste victory. 

11. England Downed Once More

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    England and Argentina have, shall we say, a checkered history at World Cup events. From the controversy of 1966 to the Hand of God, games between the two antagonistic nations have never been a smooth affair. 

    When the nations met in the second round of the 1998 World Cup, fireworks were expected. On that note, nobody was disappointed. After a goal from Michael Owen—widely recognised as one of the best in the tournament's history—the game finished 2-2 and penalties were coming. 

    Every shoot-out has its villains. Paul Ince and David Batty were the guilty men for England, missing as Argentina progressed to the quarter-finals. 

10. Batigol Smashes 3

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    Has there ever been a more consummate goalscorer than Gabriel "Batigol" Batistuta? With his flowing blonde locks and direct style, the Fiorentina legend remains the country's all-time top scorer, becoming a favourite thanks to moments like this one in 1994. 

    Batistuta became the first Argentine in 64 years to net a World Cup hat-trick, combining with a rejuvenated Diego Maradona as Greece were put to the sword. 

9. Goalrush in 1st Semi-Final

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    The United States had done well to advance to the semi-finals in Uruguay. Paraguay and Belgium were both seen off 3-0, leaving the North Americans with a perfect six points from the group stage and zero goals conceded. 

    But when they came up against the Argentine juggernaut, the result was frightening. The Albiceleste cantered to a 6-1 thrashing, with Jim Brown hitting in the last minute to restore some dignity to the scoreline. 

    The great Guillermo Stabile supplied two of the winners' goals, turning himself into another curiosity of early football. Having scored eight goals in his only four caps, all at the World Cup, the Huracan legend moved to Europe with Genoa and never played again for his nation. 

8. Serbia Destruction

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    MARTIN MEISSNER/Associated Press

    Argentina's 2006 World Cup line-up contained a frightening quantity of attacking talent. Javier Saviola, Hernan Crespo, Juan Roman Riquelme, Pablo Aimar and Carlos Tevez were all in the squad; not to mention an 18-year-old Barcelona promise by the name of Lionel Messi. 

    The campaign would end in penalty heartbreak against Germany, but the Seleccion still gave us one of the most comprehensive demolitions in the history of the World Cup. Serbia and Montenegro were by no means a minnow, but they had no way of living with Argentina as they folded 6-0 in Gelsenkirchen. 

    That game, almost as a cherry on top of the delicious dessert, also handed us a team goal to be cherished for all time... 

7. The 25-Pass Goal

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    It is a goal that one can never tire of watching. Thanks to Diego Maradona, Argentina have a strong representation of all-time World Cup goals lists; but few can compare to Esteban Cambiasso's strike against Serbia in 2006 for pure mastery of the team game. 

    "How many touches were there, count them please!" enthuses legendary commentator Victor Hugo Morales as the midfielder takes Hernan Crespo's flick and buries into the top of the net, capping a move that encompassed up to 26 passes before finally going for the jugular. 

6. Batigol Smashes 3: Take 2

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    To score three goals in a World Cup match is a wonderful achievement. To score two hat-tricks in the World Cup—and what's more, in consecutive tournaments—marks that player out as something truly special. 

    So I suppose we should not have expected anything less from one Gabriel Batistuta in the 1998 tournament. 

    Jamaica were the latest victims of the Santa Fe native's potent scoring power, as they were unable to do anything to stop him. With his head or with his feet, everything Batigol touched during that 5-0 drubbing seemed destined for the net. 

5. The March to the Final

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    Diego Maradona's wonderful goal in the 1986 World Cup semi-final against Belgium is not remembered with quite the same fervour as that which preceded it in the previous round. But in many ways the Napoli star's jinking, jiving ball control is just as impressive as it was against England. 

    Now at the height of his powers, El Pibe de Oro barely seems to be expending energy as he rounds a desperate back line, who do not seem to know how to stop their virtuoso opponent. Both goals came from Maradona in a 2-0 victory; both are worthy of any highlight reel. 

4. Hand of God

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    In a game of the highest symbolic importance, Maradona showed the two sides of being Argentine. In the first goal he shows the trick, the creole impudence or shamelessness. Argentina is a country where deceit has more honour than ability. 

    Diego's team-mate, Jorge Valdano, used the words above, retrieved via World Soccer magazine, to describe one of the most polemic moments ever seen on a football pitch. They can only refer, of course, to the action which Maradona himself called the "Hand of God." 

    Rising to contest a high ball with England's goalkeeper, the tiny playmaker appears at first sight to have somehow outjumped his rival and headed in. Of course, he used his hand to steer the ball into the net, and despite fierce protests the goal stood, sending Argentina on the way to victory in 1986.   

3. Glory in Mexico

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    When one talks about the 1986 World Cup, it is easy to almost forget the final in favour of the glorious moments that occurred beforehand. But that clash itself, starting a series of deciders with West Germany, is worthy of its own unique place in the record books. 

    Argentina appeared to be coasting 2-0 ahead, but the strength of a team blessed with the likes of Rudi Voller, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Lothar Matthaus finally began to tell as they managed to level the game in the second half. 

    There was to be another twist, however. Diego Maradona had been double-marked throughout and struggled to shine, but he escaped just long enough to release Jorge Burruchaga with seven minutes to play. The striker made no mistake, and a second World Cup went to the Albiceleste. 

2. Champions for 1st Time

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    Despite occurring on home soil, in a packed Monumental Stadium full of Argentine fans, the Albiceleste's first World Cup triumph in 1978 is never recalled quite as fondly as that which followed eight years later. Perhaps the military dictatorship of the time, the disappearances and repression, have in hindsight cast a shadow over that sporting achievement. 

    It is a shame, because there is no doubt whatsoever that Cesar Luis Menotti's men worked wonders to lift the World Cup from defending champions the Netherlands. 

    Even without star Johan Cruyff, the Oranje were a fearsome prospect. But so were Argentina. The nation's only foreign-based player (imagine such a scenario now!), Mario Kempes, struck twice as the hosts finally prevailed 3-1 after extra time, handing them a first-ever Jules Rimet Trophy. 

1. The Goal of the Century

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    If Diego Maradona made himself a villain with the first goal against England in 1986, the second cemented his place in football's hall of fame. There are simply no words to describe the majesty of his dribbling, the silky yet determined way he leaves the Three Lions defence in the dust. 

    For that reason we hand over to Victor Hugo Morales, whose commentary on the goal for Radio Continental provides the perfect backdrop to one of sport's greatest moments: 

    It's coming to Diego, now Maradona has it, two marking, Maradona steps over, the genius of world football breaks down the right, he escapes and is going to pass to Burruchaga... Forever Maradona!! Genius! Genius! Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta... Gooooool... Gooooool... I want to cry! My God, long live football! Beauty Diego!! Maradona! I'm sorry, it's one to weep over, Maradona, in a memorable journey, in a play for all time... Cosmic kite... From what planet did you come, to leave so many Englishman in your path, so that the country becomes a clenched first screaming for Argentina?