Argentina’s all-time World Cup XI

I’ve done Brazil, Germany and the Netherlands so logic would dictate that today I compile an all-time XI for the fourth and final semi-finalist, Argentina.

One of the football’s biggest nations, Argentina have lifted the World Cup twice and finished runners-up on a further two occasions. Today’s XI, as with the previous three, practically pick themselves. For the most part Argentina’s best ever players have stepped up at the World Cup. As always there will be one or two omissions that might raise an eyebrow or two but today I don’t think there will be much argument.

Manager: César Luis Menotti (1978 & 1982)
Formation: 4-3-3

1. ubaldo fillol
Javier Zanetti, Argentina 4. daniel passarella 5. roberto ayala 3. silvio marzolini
6. ossie ardiles 7. riquelme 8. diego maradona
9. mario kempes Gabriel Batistuta 1998 Lionel Messi

GK: Ubaldo Fillol (1974, 1978 & 1982)

Ubaldo Fillol’s performances in 1978 saw him named as the best goalkeeper of the tournament after his inclusion in the All-Star team. He pips Nery Pumpido to the post (no pun intended) owing to Pumpido’s howler that gifted Cameroon a shock victory in 1990.

As Argentina gave players their numbers alphabetically in 1978, Fillol wore number 5, as opposed to 1, which was worn by Norberto Alonso.

RB: Javier Zanetti (1998 & 2002)

It is unfortunate that Javier Zanetti’s two World Cups were forgettable experiences for Argentina as Zanetti was one of the best full-backs to play the game during the 1990s. With 145 caps he is Argentina’s most capped player and earned his last cap in 2011.

He was controversially omitted from the 2006 squad by José Pekerman and again in 2010 by Diego Maradona, despite having captained Inter to the treble that season.

CB: Daniel Passarella (1978 & 1982) [CAPTAIN]

Not only Argentina’s greatest ever defender but one of the game’s best, Daniel Passarella was also not shy of scoring a goal or 22. Passarella was captain as Argentina finally got their hands on the World Cup in 1978, on home soil.

Despite featuring in the 1986 squad he did not play a single minute owing to a bout of enterocolitis. His relationship with Maradona and manager Carlos Bilardo during the tournament was strained but he remains the only Argentinian player to be part of their two winning sides.

CB: Roberto Ayala (1998 & 2006)

Roberto Ayala is second only to Javier Zanetti as Argentina’s most capped player. He played for the national side in France but missed the catastrophic campaign in South Korea and Japan after picking up a last-minute injury before their opener against Nigeria.

In 2006 he seemed to turn the clocks back as his performances saw him featured in the 23-man All-Star team, the only Argentine apart from Hernán Crespo.

LB: Silvio Marzolini (1962 & 1966)

Silvio Marzolini is regularly mentioned in the same breath as Giacinto Facchetti and Paolo Maldini as the finest left-back the game has ever seen. His first World Cup in 1962 was a disappointing affair as Argentina failed to progress beyond a group that included Hungary (1), England (2) and Bulgaria (4).

In 1966 though, despite their quarter-final exit, Marzolini impressed and featured in the team of the tournament alongside Bobby Moore, George Cohen and Vicente (of Portugal) in defence.

CM: Ossie Ardiles (1978 & 1982)

Osvaldo “Ossie” Ardiles is something of a cult hero in England after his time with Tottenham Hotspur alongside compatriot “Ricky” Villa. Ardiles is also a legend in his home country after helping Argentina to their first World Cup title in 1978. Winning relatively few caps for a player of his abilities Ardiles merits his place in this XI.

CM: Juan Román Riquelme (2006)

A one World Cup man but Juan Román Riquelme will be remembered as the reason Argentina lost to Germany in the quarter-finals in 2006, through no fault of his own. Given the number 10 shirt by manager José Pekerman, Riquelme was a revelation in midfield. Their creative epicentre Riquelme played a key role in that wonderful team goal against Serbia and Montenegro.

In the quarter-final against Germany his corner found Roberto Ayala who headed Argentina into a 1-0 lead. In the 72nd minute Pekerman replaced Riquelme with the most defensive Esteban Cambiasso. Eight minutes later Germany got their equaliser and went on to win on penalties. Had Riquelme stayed on the pitch another piece of magic from him could have seen the South Americans through.

CM: Diego Maradona (1982, 1986, 1990 & 1994)

What can I say about Diego Armando Maradona that hasn’t been said? His inclusion in an Argentinian all-time World Cup XI never mind an all-time dream team was never questioned.

1986 was his annus mirabilis as he almost single-handedly dragged Argentina to World Cup glory. He made the final again in 1990 but West Germany ran out 1-0 winners in a poor final. His bookend tournaments at the World Cup saw shameful exits; in 1982 he saw red after stamping on a Brazilian player, while in 1994 he was sent home after testing positive for ephedrine.

RW: Mario Kempes (1974, 1978 & 1982)

Argentina’s hero in 1978, Kempes’s six goals won him the Golden Boot as well as the Golden Ball for the tournament’s best player. His two most important goals came in the final, one of which was in extra-time which guaranteed it would be Argentina that got their hands on the World Cup trophy.

The only foreign-based player in the 1978 squad (with Valencia), Kempes played in the 1974 and 1982 tournaments but 1978 sees him pip Guillermo Stábile.

CF: Gabriel Batistuta (1994, 1998 & 2002)

The Fiorentina fans didn’t dub him “Batigol” for nothing. Despite having an impressive debut tournament in 1994, Gabriel Batistuta and Argentina’s World Cup was overshadowed by Diego Maradona’s suspension for doping. In that game against Greece where Maradona gave the world his best Roger Rabbit impression, Batistuta hit a hat-trick.

In 1998 Batistuta hit another hat-trick, this time against Jamaica, becoming only the fourth player to achieve such a feat. Five goals in France saw him overtake Maradona and Stábile as Argentina’s highest World Cup goalscorer. In the farcical 2002 campaign Batistuta bagged one goal to bring his World Cup tally to ten.

LW: Lionel Messi (2006, 2010 & 2014)

Lionel Messi’s performances this year already assure him a place in this side. The greatest player of all time? Quite possibly, and even if Argentina just fall short he’s already done enough at the World Cup to silence the doubters.

His first World Cup goal came in that 6-0 rout of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006 but he would have to wait eight years before his next and boy was it worth it. Against debutants Bosnia and Herzegovina Messi scored a goal dripping in individual brilliance to salvage three points for his side. This year has seen Messi attempting to emulate Maradona, in more ways than one, by dragging an Argentinian side that seems to think he will win them the World Cup on his own (which he could well do).

By Eoghan Wallace

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