In a country where pressure is applied on the national team like no other (as readers of our mood in Argentina ahead of the World Cup feature will know), the Argentina national team has developed a nasty habit of choking at the final hurdle, something those in Albiceleste ranks will be desperate to avoid in Russia as they gun for their third world crown.
Since lifting the Copa America back in 1993, Argentina have lost a staggering 7 finals in a row, leaving an entire generation of fans without success. In the following article, we look at the latter three of said defeats, which the current group of players are largely responsible for and see what lessons can be learned to avoid yet more heartbreak.
To see the men looking to finally end the curse, check out our Argentina squad analysis piece!
2014 World Cup Final: Taking your chances
13th July 2014: Maracanã Stadium v Germany:
After suffering Confederation Cup final losses in both 1995 and 2005 as well as Copa America denial in 2004 and 2007, Argentina had the opportunity to end the sequence of no-shows in the sweetest of fashion; securing the World Cup trophy in the most iconic stadium of their biggest rivals, Brazil.
There was a feeling of inevitability that this was the year. Argentine fans took over beaches, shopping centres, buses and bars. Everywhere you went in Brazil; Argentine fans were, and they were there for one thing only; to see their nation crowned champions.
Coming into the tournament off the back of consecutive quarter-final exits, Alejandro Sabella’s troops had buried that curse, breezing through the group with a perfect 9 points before edging out Switzerland and Belgium respectively with 1-0 wins. In the semi-final, a nervy, hard fought 120 minutes saw their clash with Holland go to penalties before Sergio Romero etched himself into national folklore, proving the hero in a 4-2 shootout triumph that left just Germany between themselves and eternal glory.
With Germany arriving off the back of their famous 7-1 over Brazil, it was never going to be easy but make no mistake, every Argentine believed like they hadn’t in recent years. There was faith in the team once again; their guts and guile evoking memories of years gone by. Angel Di Maria, then in the absolute peak of his powers failed a late fitness test, but there was still plenty of reasons to believe; they had won the semi-final in his absence, after all.
Ultimately, the main villain of the piece was to be Gonzalo Higuain, whose miss in the first half is still talked about on an almost daily basis to this day. A rare mistake from Toni Kroos had given Higuain the freedom of the Maracana box. He was through on goal and a nation held its collective breath. With all the time in the world Higuain swung his right boot at the dropping ball but got it horribly wrong, lashing the ball well wide of Manuel Neuer’s post, leaving a permanent stain on his career that’ll he’ll forever be reminded of in Argentina. Higuain went on to have a goal disallowed but it wasn’t to be; Mario Gotze struck in the 113th minute of extra time to send those in light blue home distraught.
2015 Copa America Final: Holding your nerve
4th July 2015: Estadio Nacional v Chile:
As disappointing as defeat in 2014 was, Argentina had the perfect chance to get over it, as well as righting some wrongs of a simply humiliating Copa America final defeat to Brazil back in 2007.
Now under the watch of Gerardo Martino, the Argentines looked strong and what’s more; they looked ready. After topping a group containing Paraguay, Uruguay and Jamaica, as well as seeing Colombia off on penalties, Martino’s troops had dismantled Paraguay 6-1 in the semis, leaving confidence flowing going into the final against hosts Chile.
The Chileans may have had home advantage, but they were by no means the favourites. In dodging Brazil, who suffered shock elimination at the hands of Paraguay, Argentina had struck gold and all that was left to do was to cash it in, in front of a packed Estadio Nacional crowd.
Argentina had already beaten their Chilean opponents in both of the games between the two in qualification for the 2014 World Cup and whilst Chile had some talented players in their ranks, Argentina were clearly the stronger team man for man.
120 minutes passed in thunderous fashion, the Chilean crowd baying for blood throughout. Di Maria had once again been failed by his body at just the wrong time, going off early in the first half whilst Higuain missed a glorious, albeit slightly less guilt edged opportunity to win at the death in 90, failing to slide into an open goal from a tight angle.
And so the match went to penalties; and Argentina collapsed. Matias Fernandez and Messi slotted in to make the scores 1-1, but Higuain was to fail his country once again, blazing horribly over after Arturo Vidal had rattled in his penalty. Charles Aranguiz made the scores 3-1 before Ever Banega was denied by Claudio Bravo. Alexis Sanchez then sent Argentina packing trophy-less once again with an audacious Panenka finish, rubbing salt in an ever growing Argentine wound.
2016 Copa America Final: Leaving past scars in the past
6th June 2016: MetLife Stadium v Chile:
By now this group of Argentine players had lost the support of those back home, labelled all manner of things. The defeat the year before still ran raw and whilst the desire to run out champions was still strong, the feeling around the group was far more toxic.
AFA, the governing body of Argentine football was in complete chaos by this point and preparation for the competition was far from ideal. Bankrupt and in the midst of a power struggle, there were even rumours the team would pull of the competition in the build-up to it.
Lionel Messi publicly attacked the organisation on his Instagram page, after the players were effectively abandoned. Those that travelled lacked equipment to train with, suffered huge delays on flights not fit for purpose, had numerous issues with hotel rooms and even went without dinner just two days before the final.
Nonetheless, in the face of adversity, Argentina were there and what’s more they were there in style, having blown away all competition in the build up to the final, scoring 18 goals and conceding just twice. Once again it was Chile that were the opponents, but having already defeated them in the group stage, there was no reason that Argentina couldn’t finally end their trophy drought.
The pressure preceding the game was huge, with Diego Maradona warning the team in the press not to bother coming home if victory wasn’t secured. The country had lost patience with their men and the feeling was no longer one of support, but one of expectation.
It was all to prove too much. Gonzalo Higuain continued his theme of blowing massive chances on the big stage, spurning the very definition of a clear one on one and the team’s attackers simply froze. Messi made dribble, after dribble, after dribble, but was attacking alone; a sole figure fighting in vain against the course of destiny.
After yet another physical affair, in which both teams would go down to 10, it was penalties once again and the weight of over 40 million people watching back home crashed down on those on the pitch. The sheer psychological fear that had built up over the last two failed attempts had taken its toll and once talisman Messi missed the first penalty it was always going to go one way, with Chile running out 4-2 winners.
Messi himself subsequently retired for international football in the heat of the emotions, stating that he’d given up hope on leading his nation to a title, and though he eventually turned back on his decision, his post-match interview said more than enough about the brittle state of the camp after so much hurt had been inflicted in such a short space of time.
Going into Russia, Argentina simply have to leave the past in the past. If they go into the competition with the same mindset they did into the second final against Chile, they’ll have no chance of returning home with the trophy.
The pressure of being a part of the Argentine national team is like no other and with this the last chance for many of the squad, ignoring history will prove very difficult to do, but is something Jorge Sampaoli simply has to drum into his troops.
Aside from that, players, managers and fans alike have to accept that it’s football; there are winners and losers. Argentina have no divine right to be world champions and whilst they should certainly should expect to contend, finals are one off events that are settled on fine margins, margins that in the past haven’t been on their side but this time around; who knows? Maybe it could be Argentina’s year after all; at long last.
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