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SPORTS | 24-11-2022 14:41

Echoes of the past: Argentina and the example of Italia ’90

Maradona's Argentina already went through what Messi's Argentina is going through now. Searching for omens from the past and signs that the Albiceleste can reboot their World Cup campaign.

Diego Maradona's Argentina already went through what Lionel Messi's Argentina is going through now: at the World Cup in Italy 1990, the Albiceleste suffered a shock defeat in their opener, losing 1-0 against Cameroon. Fast-forward 32 years and there are echoes of the past with the side now captained by Messi, whose side lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in Qatar last Tuesday.

In 1990, the team then-coached by Carlos Salvador Bilardo arrived as reigning world champions after their success four years earlier in Mexico. After that defeat to Cameroon, they rallied to avoid elimination in the group stage and then went all the way to the final, where West Germany eventually denied them the title.

"You don't know what the days after the game were like. The worst are the days leading up to the second match. You go crazy in your head because you start to do the maths," Oscar Ruggeri, a former international defender who was in that team more than three decades ago, told ESPN.

Cameroon went into that June 8, 1990 match at Milan's San Siro stadium looking like the perfect victims for Argentina, but a lone goal by Francois Omam-Biyik decided the game. 

In the rest of the tournament, the African side made history by becoming the first from their continent to reach the quarter-finals of football's greatest tournament.

A quote from Bilardo after that defeat went down in history: "If we go out in the first round, I'll fly back.” It went viral on social media after the setback against the Saudis as Argentines remembered what was and imagined what could be. 

In their second and third matches of Italia ’90, Argentina played at the San Paolo stadium in Naples, Maradona's home stadium. They advanced to the next round by beating the Soviet Union (2-0) and drawing with Romania (1-1).

In 1990, there were 24 participants in six groups, with the top two from each group and the four best third-placed teams progressing to the Round of 16. Argentina advanced as one of those lucky four, a circumstance that is not the case today, where only the top two avoid elimination.

Argentina's matches against Mexico on Saturday and Poland next Wednesday will be true “finals,” as striker Lautaro Martínez said in the wake of last Tuesday’s defeat.

 

Mixed record

In addition to the campaign in Italy, Argentina have lost their first World Cup match on four other occasions.

The first was in 1934, also in Italy, where they were defeated 3-2 by Sweden in a match that went straight to the Round of 16. The adventure was quickly over.

Argentina again lost their World Cup debut in Sweden in 1958, in that case, 3-1 to the Federal Republic of Germany. In their second clash, they bounced back to defeat Northern Ireland 3-1, but were then eliminated, finishing bottom of their group after being overwhelmed 6-1 by Czechoslovakia, who, despite the victory, also failed to advance.

Four years before Argentina's first World Cup title, the Albiceleste lost their debut match at the 1974 finals in Germany, going down 3-2 to Poland as the legendary Grzegorz Lato scored a brace. Against Italy, Argentina drew 1-1 in the second match and made it through to the third and decisive matchday, where they beat Haiti 4-1 to qualify as runners-up. In the second group stage they were then clearly outclassed and bowed out of the tournament with little fuss.

The Spain 1982 World Cup also got off to a bad start for the national side, then the reigning champions, who arrived with a young Maradona in their ranks. The first match, at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, ended in a 1-0 defeat to Belgium, but Argentina returned to form with wins over Hungary (4-1) and El Salvador (2-0). César Luis Menotti's side then bowed out in the second group stage, losing to Italy and Brazil.

Argentina fans looking for more lucky omens should also remember that in 2010 in South Africa, Spain lost their opening match 1-0 to Switzerland. They then won their next six matches and took home the trophy.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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