Batistuta’s hat-trick, the Swedish disaster & a Cameroonian upset: Argentina’s opening World Cup match history

openers

Argentina being considered among the favourites in Russia is certainly not based on any recent form and goalkeeper Willy Caballero said as much this week.

“Argentina is respected because of the last World Cups, for the players it has, for the way they play and for the way they compete, and in the possible meetings other teams will respect us a lot.”

A long history going back to the very first World Cup in 1930 Argentina have been crowned champions twice.

However, the Albiceleste’s record on the opening day is a chequered one and Jorge Sampaoli will be praying that Iceland don’t make a name for themselves in the history books on Saturday.

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Uruguay 1930: Argentina 1 France 0

Argentina began their World Cup campaign against France, who had already played their opening group game against Mexico, two days earlier but despite the Albiceleste being firm favourites, it took a late Luis Monti goal to win it.

The French were already struggling physically and with goalkeeper Alex Thepot forced off after 20 minutes and Lucien Laurent clearly playing injured, Argentina still struggled to breakthrough. 

Monti, who would famously lead Italy to the World Cup in 1934, struck in the 81st minute but there was still time for Brazilian referee Gilberto Rego to cause controversy when he blew for full-time six minutes early when France were bearing down on the Argentine goal. French protests saw play resume but Francisco Olazar’s side held on for victory.

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Italy 1934: Argentina 2 Sweden 3

No group stage in 1934 meant one defeat and Argentina were on their way back home as Sweden dumped out a disorganised Albiceleste.

A weakened Argentina squad saw none of the 1930 World Cup finalists travel to Italy and despite leading twice through Ernesto Belis and Alberto Galateo, Sweden fought back to win through Knut Kroon’s 79th minute winner.

Sweden 1958: Argentina 1 West Germany 3

Defeat to Sweden 24 years earlier was a blow but the World Cup held in the Scandanavian country in 1958 was an utter disaster for Argentina.

The long period of isolation had been Argentina’s years of absolute strength during the 1940s go unrewarded on the world scene and by the time the Albiceleste returned to the World Cup, European football had caught up.

The outrageously gifted Omar Corbatta would give Argentina an early lead against West Germany in Malmö but two long range efforts by Helmut Rahn either side Uwe Seeler sliding in inflicted an opening defeat on Guillermo Stabile’s side.

Victory over Northern Ireland followed but the humiliating 6-1 defeat to Czechoslovakia saw the Albiceleste sent packing.

Argentina 1962

Chile 1962: Argentina 1 Bulgaria 0

Despite Hector Facundo’s early toe-poke giving Argentina victory over Bulgaria in their World Cup opener in Rancagua, the Albiceleste still crashed out in the first round.

A 3-1 defeat to a talented England side of Bobby Charlton, Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Moore was followed by a goaless draw against Hungary and that was enough for Argentina to miss out on a place in the next round on goal difference.

England 1966: Argentina 2 Spain 1

Of course all anyone remembers now about 1966 is the ‘ANIMALS!’ tag and Antonio Rattin’s sending off in the quarter final defeat to England but Argentina were looking good prior to that.

An excellent Luis Artime brace had given the Albiceleste a 2-1 win over Spain at Villa Park and with a draw against eventual beaten finalists West Germany and victory over Switzerland, Argentina moved comfortably to the knockout stages.

Hosts England lay in wait at Wembley and the rest as they say is history.

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West Germany 1974: Argentina 2 Poland 3

The Netherlands teaching Argentina a lesson in the second round was the takeaway in 1974 but Vladislao Cap’s side had already been shocked on the opening day.

Two quick-fire goals by Grzegorz Lato and Andrzej Szarmach had given Poland a two-goal lead inside eight minutes in Stuttgart and although Ramón Heredia pulled one back, Lato swiftly re-established the lead. Carlos Babington did manage another but the Europeans had once again proved too much.

Argentina would progress to the second group stage thanks to a better goal difference than Italy but would be outclassed later in the tournament.

Argentina 1978: Argentina 2 Hungary 1 

With the military junta desperate to use Argentina’s success on home soil as a propaganda tool in 1978, all was not going according to plan when Karoly Csapo tapped Hungary in front after ten minutes in the Monumental.

The lead didn’t last long though with Leopoldo Luque bundling in Mario Kempes’ saved free-kick and as it looked like Argentina may have to settle for a point, Daniel Bertoni struck seven minutes from time.

Defeat to Italy later in the group meant Argentina had to settle for second place and a move to Rosario but it all worked out pretty well for César Luis Menotti’s side.

Spain 1982: Argentina 0 Belgium 1

The defending champions added the young Diego Maradona to the team for the World Cup in Spain but with the team lacking any of the drive that they possessed in ’78, Belgium took advantage.

Maradona hit the bar with a free-kick and perhaps should have had a penalty but ultimately Erwin Vandenbergh’s second half goal was enough. A static defence allowed the Belgian striker acres of space and as Ubaldo Fillol hesitated to come for the ball, Vandenbergh fired into the corner.

Victories over Hungary and El Salvador took Argentina through but defeats to Italy and Brazil in the next round, meant an early exit.

Mexico 1986: Argentina 3 South Korea 1 

The first step towards lifting the trophy for the second time in 1986 was a meeting with South Korea in Mexico City. Maradona was dealt some rough treatment from the Koreans but it was the number ten’s free-kicks that did the damage.

Maradona’s initial effort crashed into the wall but follow-up his header found Jorge Valdano, who squeezed a shot inside the far post after six minutes. Soon after Diego swung in another set-piece and this time Oscar Riggeri headed a second.

Valdano tapped in a third from a low Maradona cross and although Korea pulled a goal back, Argentina secured an opening day win.

Italy 1990: Argentina 0 Cameroon 1 

Still one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history – Cameroon’s victory over defending champions Argentina in the San Siro lives long in the memory.

A physical approach bordering on the criminal saw the The Indomitable Lions end the game with nine men but despite that François Omam-Biyik’s header squirming through the hands of Nery Pumpido was enough for a famous win.

Argentina recovered to squeeze through with a win and a draw against the Soviet Union and Romania respectively and Carlos Bilardo’s side just never seemed to give in. That spirit took Maradona and his soldiers to the final, where West Germany would break their hearts.

USA 1994: Argentina 4 Greece 0

Since that defeat to Cameroon, Argentina’s fortune on the opening day has been far more consistent and that all began with a thumping win over Greece in 1994.

With a rejuvenated Diego Maradona pulling the strings alongside Fernando Redondo and Gabriel Batistuta in attack, Argentina had far too much for their European opponents and Batigol plundered the first of his two World Cup hat-tricks.

Batistuta had already struck twice when a glorious passage of play ended with Maradona hitting the top corner and promptly screaming down a camera lens for a truly iconic moment in the tournament. The result was wrapped up from the penalty spot by Batistuta and Argentina were looking formidable until that fateful final group game when Maradona was led off the pitch for a drug test and never appeared again.

France 1998: Argentina 1 Japan 0 

Argentina cruised through from their group in France with a perfect record and it all began with a narrow 1-0 win over Japan.

Batistuta was again the difference as the ball bobbled into his path before the prolific number nine produced a delicate finish over Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi. Another hat-trick followed against Jamaica and with a win over Croatia, the Albicelete were through as group winners. England were eliminated on penalties before Dennis Bergkamp’s genius won a classic quarter-final encounter for the Netherlands.

Japan & Korea 2002: Argentina 1 Nigeria 0

2002’s ‘Group of death’ proved to be the undoing of Marcelo Bielsa’s talented squad but it didn’t look as though that would be the case after Argentina battled to a 1-0 win over Nigeria in the opening game in Ibaraki.

Gabriel Batistuta’s back-post header just after the hour mark settled it but an unfortunate defeat to England five days later and a draw with Sweden saw the Albiceleste crash out.

Germany 2006: Argentina 2 Ivory Coast 1 

José Pékerman’s team deserved so much more and were it not for perhaps the wrong substitutions and the misfortune of a penalty shootout against hosts Germany, Argentina could have celebrated a third world title.

Ivory Coast were the first victims in the Group C opener as the magical Juan Román Riquelme pulled the strings in Argentina’s midfield. The Boca Juniors icon’s free-kick was eventually bundled in by Hernán Crespo before he split the Ivory Coast with a gorgeous pass for Javier Saviola to double.

Didier Drogba managed a late consolation but the Albiceleste made a winning start before truly announcing themselves at the tournament with that goal against Serbia and Montenegro.

South Africa 2010: Argentina 1 Nigeria 0 

Argentina’s fairly kind draw lulled Diego Maradona’s disorganised side into a false sense of security and the first of their three group wins came against Nigeria in Johannesburg.

Gabriel Heinze’s diving header from Juan Sebastián Verón’s corner after only six minutes was enough and while Vincent Enyeama denied Gonzalo Higuaín and Lionel Messi from adding a second, Argentina held on.

Victories over South Korea and Greece followed before a win over Mexico in the last 16 and then the wheels came off as Germany ripped Maradona’s tactically inept side to shreds.

Brazil 2014: Argentina 2 Bosnia & Herzegovina 1

Argentina had swept through qualifying but Alejandro Sabella’s switch to a 3-5-2 saw the the Albiceleste struggle for long periods against Bosnia & Herzegovina in Rio de Janeiro despite taking an early lead.

Lionel Messi’s left-wing free-kick was deflected into his own net by Sead Kolašinac but Argentina were made to wait until a switch to their usual 4-3-3 and a bit of Messi magic to double their lead.

Running from halfway, exchanging passes with Gonzalo Higuaín and leaving a heap of Bosnian defenders, Messi curled in a wonderful second and although Vedad Ibisević claimed a late consolation, Argentina were off to a winning start.

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