There is a messiah and he is wearing blue and white. The one and only, the Chosen One, and he just happen to wear Argentina’s famed no. 10. He is expected to do everything, using all the tricks in the book, and then add some more, to fly over the pitch, to ignore defenders as if they were no more than bugs, score the most amazing goals and to lead team and country to fame, glory and a world cup title. After all, it worked with the original messiah, hasn’t it? so why shouldn’t it work with the current one?
But let’s take a pause and go back in the tunnel of time. Our story begins at 1978. The real story, that is. Not because there is nothing to tell about previous world cups there is, but not much. Argentina started its participation in 1930 UEFA World Cup Uruguay and it did pretty well, advancing all the way to the final before losing 1-2 to the host country. From there on, there was a quarter-finals appearance in 1966 UEFA World Cup England, but not much, and we need to take a long leap, all the way to 1978.
Well, not quite yet. After FIFA has awarded Argentina hosting rights to the World Cup but two years prior to the tournament, the country went through a military coup and was under military rule under dictators Juan and Evita Peron. Thousands of Argentinians who were declared objectors of the regime, vanished, and thousands of others were put behind bars in prisons and concentration camps, all without due process. Countries and human rights organizations all over the world stood up and demanded to move the tournament out of the country. To no avail.
The tournament started and it sure didn’t looked like any other World Cup. Thousands of armed soldiers marched the streets and the stadiums, allegedly keeping law and order. It didn’t take long before the “order” came under severe questioning. During the group stage, Argentina’s games during were all held long after all the other games were finished, giving the hosts a clear indication of their status. After advancing from the group stage, Argentina had to beat Peru by a margin of at least four goals. It won 6-0. The rage would go on for decades, as well as the speculations – Peru’s players were intimidated by the regime, were paid to lose, Argentina had shipped large amounts of grain to Peru and so on. But Argentina moved on, all the way to the final, in which it beat Netherlands 3-1 in extra time. The hero was Mario Kempes, who scored twice. Messiah? He was on the bench, in the form of a 17-year-old with plenty of talent, but no game time.
Diego Armando Maradona exploded into the world football scene with Boca Juniors, taking them all the way to a national title in 1991. Two things happened prior to the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain: The Falkland War between Argentina and England, and Maradona being sold for a world record fee to Barcelona. Maradona showed his magic on the pitch and got the stars’ treatment: a brutal game from defenders. At the second round, he was sent off in a game in which Argentina lost to Brazil and to another no. 10 magician – Zico - and that was the end.
Four years later, in Mexico 1986, there was no stopping him, although he needed the “Hand of God” to help defeat England. Argentina defeated West Germany 3-2 in the final and Maradona finally had his trophy.
Argentina had to wait too long for a new messiah. Lionel Messi made his World Cup doubt in 2006 UEFA World Cup Germany, where Argentina made the quarter-finals. Excluding Brazil 2014, where Argentina reached the final before losing to Germany, he has yet to carry the national team over the quarter-finals hurdle. And he had no much success either in the Copa America games. As with messiahs, it’s a clear cut: either you win it all, or, for all your genius on the pitch, you will be remembered as the guy who couldn’t do it.
Argentina is waiting.
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