Argentina have not always been the giants of the game that nearby Brazil were in the early days of the FIFA World Cup, but thanks to a rise to power in the 1970s and 1980s, the Albiceleste are known today as one of the most accomplished nations in world football.
With superstars like Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, Argentina have graced the globe with some of the best players in the history of football.
Today, Argentina is considered one of the most dominant and fearsome countries in international football, with many players at top clubs across the world.
The Sporting News brings you a complete summary of Argentina’s history at the FIFA World Cup, with their triumphs and failures on the game’s biggest stage.
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How many World Cups has Argentina won?
Argentina has won two FIFA World Cup titles in the country’s illustrious footballing history, behind only Brazil’s world-best five and level with Uruguay amongst South American nations.
La Albiceleste won their first World Cup title in 1978 as hosts. They won a second title two World Cups later as Diego Maradona led Argentina to glory in the 1986 edition hosted by Mexico. This tournament featured the famous ‘Hand of God’ goal that saw Argentina get past England in the quarterfinals.
1978 FIFA World Cup
As hosts, Argentina hoisted the nation’s first FIFA World Cup title, led by the tournament’s top goalscorer Mario Kempes, at the time playing for Valencia in Spain.
As second-place finishers in the first group stage behind Italy, they topped Brazil on goal differential in the second group stage, largely thanks to a 6-0 demolition of Peru in the final match. Kempes scored two of his six World Cup goals in that pivotal game, but wasn’t quite done yet.
In the final against the Netherlands, Kempes would open the scoring on 38 minutes, and while the Netherlands answered in the 82nd minute to send the match to extra-time, Kempes would bag the winner in the 105th minute to hoist the trophy, eventually winning the match 3-1. The match was marred by controversy as the Netherlands were upset with some delay tactics from Argentina prior to the game, but the hosts reigned supreme.
1986 FIFA World Cup
The tournament, initially meant to be hosted in Colombia, was eventually held in Mexico due to financial issues in the South American nation. Mexico would be captivated by Diego Maradona, who starred in the tournament and led Argentina to World Cup glory.
A 1-1 draw with Italy was the only blemish of the group stage as Argentina topped Group A and advanced to the knockout stage. The Albiceleste knocked out Uruguay and England in the first two knockout stage matches, both via one-goal victories. The match against England became famous for the ‘Hand of God’ goal in which Maradona leapt to head the ball on frame, but instead it hit his hand and went into the back of the net, which was not seen by the official as the goal stood.
A Maradona brace led Argentina past Belgium 2-0 in the semifinals, and while the superstar was held off the scoresheet in the final against Germany thanks to the defending of Lothar Matthaus, it opened up spaces for his teammates, and Maradona’s stunning assist led to an 86th-minute winner from Jorge Burruchaga, giving Argentina a 3-2 win to earn their second FIFA World Cup title.
How many World Cup finals has Argentina lost?
Along with lifting the FIFA World Cup trophy twice, Argentina have come close in two other finals, both times losing to Germany in devastating fashion.
The first came just four years after their second title with Diego Maradona again looking to lead the Albiceleste to glory, coming so close before slipping at the end.
Argentina’s second came just eight years ago, with Lionel Messi blanked by Germany and failing to secure the title thanks to an extra-time winner.
1990 FIFA World Cup final
The 1990 FIFA World Cup has been remembered for its negative tactics and lack of goals. Argentina struggled to that effect, advancing to the knockout stage as a third-place group stage finisher behind Cameroon and Romania.
The Albiceleste beat Brazil 1-0 in the Round of 16, drew with Yugoslavia 0-0 in the quarterfinals before advancing on penalties, and did the same to hosts Italy in the semifinals after a 1-1 draw. Maradona was in poor form, failing to score a single goal in the tournament and missing his penalty in the shootout against Yugoslavia.
In the 1990 final, there was a similar issue as Argentina looked sluggish even prior to Pedro Monzon’s sending off in the 65th minute. Germany would push for a winner and find it five minutes from full-time when Roberto Sensini fouled Rudi Voller in the penalty area. Andreas Brehme converted the spot-kick to secure a 1-0 victory for Germany.
2014 FIFA World Cup final
Lionel Messi’s search for a World Cup title came so close in Brazil, where winning would have been especially sweet in front of the fans of their fiercest South American rivals. Yet it was not to be as Germany again thwarted Argentina in the final.
Messi was brilliant in the group stage, scoring winners against both Bosnia & Herzegovina and Nigeria. The goals, however, would dry up in the knockout stage as Argentina advanced through the first two matches via 1-0 scorelines before a 0-0 draw with the Netherlands in the semifinals required a penalty shootout to advance.
In the final, Messi was thwarted a number of times by Manuel Neuer before Mario Gotze scored an extra-time winner to give Germany a 1-0 victory yet again, repeating the heartbreak of 24 years prior.
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Has Lionel Messi won a World Cup?
Lionel Messi has never won a FIFA World Cup. It is the only major trophy available to him that he has not won throughout his career, and 2022 apparently will be his last chance.
For a long time, Messi was missing a major international trophy, having won it all at the club level multiple times but yet to win with Argentina. That changed in 2021 when he lifted the Copa America, beating Brazil in the final and finishing as joint-top scorer in the tournament. Messi won the tournament’s best player award as well.
Messi said that victory gave him “peace of mind” as he was able to lift the international monkey off his back, but failing to achieve a World Cup title still weighs on his mind. “We’re not World Cup favorites [in 2022] but we will fight,” Messi said after the 3-0 victory over Italy in the inaugural Finalissima this past summer. “We continue to say that we are not the top favorites, but we will put up a fight against anyone because this group is hopeful, it has clear goals.”
Messi said in an interview this October that 2022 would be his last World Cup, insisting “The decision has been made,” so this will be the legend’s final chance at glory.
Argentina history at the World Cup
Argentina have reached four prior World Cup finals and won two, lifting the trophy in 1978 and 1986, both times surrounded by controversy.
They have also missed four previous World Cups, withdrawing from three in 1938, 1950, and 1954 due to political issues and controversy around the host selection process. They then failed to qualify in 1970, finishing bottom of their three-nation group behind Peru and Bolivia, with only the group winner earning a spot at the World Cup.
|Year||Host||Stage Reached||Eliminated by||Top goalscorer|
|1930||Uruguay||Final||Uruguay (4-2)||Guillermo Stabile (8)*|
|1934||Italy||Round of 16||Sweden (3-2)||2 tied w/ 1 goal each|
|1958||Sweden||Group Stage||—||Oreste Corbatta (3)|
|1962||Chile||Group Stage||—||2 tied w/ 1 goal each|
|1966||England||Quarterfinals||England (1-0)||Luis Artime (3)|
|1970||Mexico||Did not qualify||—||—|
|1974||West Germany||2nd Group Stage||—||Rene Houseman (3)|
|1978||Argentina||Won||—||Mario Kempes (6)*|
|1982||Spain||2nd Group Stage||—||3 tied w/ 2 goals each|
|1986||Mexico||Won||—||Diego Maradona (5)|
|1990||Italy||Final||West Germany (1-0)||Claudio Caniggia (2)|
|1994||United States||Round of 16||Romania (3-2)||Gabriel Batistuta (4)|
|1998||France||Quarterfinals||Netherlands (2-1)||Gabriel Batistuta (5)|
|2002||Japan/South Korea||Group Stage||Sweden (1-1)||2 tied w/ 1 goal each|
|2006||Germany||Quarterfinals||Germany (1-1, 4-2 pens)||2 tied w/ 3 goals each|
|2010||South Africa||Quarterfinals||Germany (4-0)||Gonzalo Higuain (4)|
|2014||Brazil||Final||Netherlands (0-0, 4-2 pens)||Lionel Messi (4)|
|2018||Russia||Round of 16||France (4-3)||Sergio Aguero (2)|