Argentina were handed a lifeline after Nigeria beat Iceland on Friday. The result meant that a win against the African outfit in the final group game on Tuesday could well take the Lionel Messi-led side into the knockout stage. However, a win for Iceland against Croatia, who have already qualified for the last 16 could rule out a sensational comeback for the La Albiceleste who are currently placed at the bottom of group D on 1 point. A defeat to Nigeria too will mean elimination for the South American giants.
The last time Argentina exited the World Cup finals in the group stage was in 2002. However, it wasn’t the only time that the side tasted an early demise.
Here’s a look at some of La Albiceleste’s poor World Cup campaigns over the years...
1934 World Cup in Italy
Argentina ended up playing only one game as it was played in a knockout format. The team lost its only match 3–2 to Sweden, exiting the tournament in Round 1.
1958 World Cup in Sweden
Although Argentina did not play in any World Cups from 1934 to 1954, they were still a formidable side having emerged winners in five South American Championships during that period. However, their return to the World Cup after a gap of 24 years was nothing short of disastrous. In the 1958 tournament held in Sweden, the team just could not put up a challenge against European teams. The likes of Humberto Maschio, Antonio Angelillo, Omar Sívori, who had been at the centre of their continental success were not called up for the World Cup. The lack of experience in the squad was telling. They lost their opening game 3-1 to West Germany. The side bounced back well defeating Northern Ireland in the second game. They could not keep the fight going and were eventually eliminated after losing their third game 6-1 to Czechoslovakia. The result is one of the worst defeats of a national team in a World Cup.
1962 World Cup in Chile
After recovering from the “Sweden disaster”, Argentina entered the 1962 World Cup finals having made attempts at undoing the wrongs committed in the lead up to the previous tournament. The team went on a tour of Europe in a bid to gain experience of playing against stronger teams. However, the campaign did not go according to plan. After a 1-0 victory over Bulgaria in the opener, Argentina were handed a 3-1 defeat by England. They finished their group stage engagements with a 0-0 draw against table-toppers Hungary. However, despite being level on points with England in second position, they lost out on a knockout berth due to an inferior goal average, the first time such a requirement had been necessary in a World Cup finals.
1974 World Cup in Germany
Argentina’s road to the 1974 World Cup was plagued from the beginning. With the Argentine football association in disarray at the time, it was the team which suffered the consequences. At one point, they had to even organise a friendly to get money to buy food as the association forgot to make provisions. The team would be known as “La Selección Fantasma” (The Ghost National Team) as the lack of organisation support meant the media were left in the dark due to a lack of information about the team which was training in Tilcara, a remote town based at a high-altitude. Despite the hurdles, the team managed to qualify for the finals. However, the shoddy preparations left them under-prepared for the marquee event. They were defeated in the opening game by Poland who prevailed 3-2. Italy then held them to a 1-1 draw in the second. A 4-1 win over Haiti in the third game allowed them to sneak into Round 2 where they could managed just a 1-1 draw to East Germany after losing to the Netherlands and Brazil. Argentina would finish bottom of the group table and eighth overall.
1982 World Cup in Spain
Argentina went into the 1982 World Cup even as the country was engaged in the Falklands War with the United Kingdom. With a certain Diego Maradona in tow, they were one of the favourites to lift the trophy. The campaign, though, got off to a shaky start as they lost 1-0 to Belgium amid rumours of a rift between the senior and junior players in the squad. Despite the internal tensions, Argentina fought back to win the their next game 4-1 against Hungary. They followed it up with another fine performance to down El Salvador 2-0 to seal a place in Round 2. Paired with experienced sides such as Italy and Brazil, Argentina soon realised the gulf in their abilities. The experienced defenders from both teams blunted the Argentine attack with Maradona coming for some aggressive tackles. Argentina were eliminated from the competition with losses to Italy (3-1) and Brazil (2-1).
2002 World Cup in South Korea & Japan
Argentina were paired with high-ranking teams such as England, Nigeria and Sweden in Group F of the competition, which was considered by several commentators as the “group of death”. Argentina began well with a 1-0 win over Nigeria thanks to goal from Gabriel Batistuta. They, however, lost their following game to England as David Beckham scored through a penalty to hand his side a decisive 1-0 lead. A 1-1 draw to Sweden in the final group game sealed their fate as Argentina made a pre-mature exit from the competition.