A World Cup without Argentina is not something that crossed many supporters minds when the qualification matches started back in 2007. In fact, the two year South American qualification campaign is viewed as too easy by many with Brazil and Argentina often cruising through leaving the two other spots up for grabs. Nevertheless, constant disruption and baffling decisions saw the Argies just one match away from missing out on the tournament altogether.
Argentina began their South American Qualifying campaign back in 2007 with a home match against Chile, now managed by former Argentina manager Marcelo Bielsa. A relatively convincing performance in the first half saw midfield playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, who has recently required from international football, grab two goals to put his country in a commanding position at half time. The sending off of Chilian Christian Alvarez made the second half a comfortable affair which never saw the Argies get out of second gear. Argentina maintained their 100% record for two more matches which saw a comfortable 2-0 win away to Venezuela and a routine 3-0 home victory against Bolivia.
However, the first cracks of the qualifying campaign were evident to be seen as Argentina blew a 1-0 half time lead to end up losing 2-1 away to Columbia as Carlos Tevez was sent off. This was followed up with an unconvincing display at home to Ecuador as Argentina needed a 93rd minute goal by Boca Juniors striker Rodrigo Palacio to snatch a 1-1 draw. Although this was followed up with a very good 0-0 draw away to Brazil, Argentina had failed to win in three games and their promising early position was starting to look precarious.
Even though Argentina were only up to match 7 of 18, the next match against the unpredictable Paraguay had the feel of a big clash about it. The Paraguayans had already managed to comprehensively beat Brazil 2-0 at home yet crashed 4-2 to second bottom side Bolivia just three days later. Even so, it was clear that Paraguay were going to be a very dangerous outfit for Alfio Basile’s team. The encounter lived up to it’s pre match billing as Gabriel Heinze put through his own net after 13 minutes whilst Tevez was sent off for the 2nd time in three internationals after two violent tackles. Fortunately, Sergio Aguero rescued a draw for Argentina in the second half although it failed to disguise another below par performance.
However, Argentina’s form was quickly becoming a concern. Three days later they visited rock bottom Peru who were in awful form along with off the field scandal. Argentina struggled to get going and thought they had grabbed the three points as Esteban Cambiasso scored in the 82nd minute. However, in the 93rd minute, Peru stunned the star studded outfit with an equaliser that put even more pressure on manager Basile.
With a country expecting better, Basile’s job was on the line during the home encounter against Uruguay. His team gave him a stay of execution as early goals from Messi and Aguero proved just about enough as Argentina finally claimed three points after five games without a win. However, enough was enough as Argentina quickly reverted to their previous ways with a lacklusture 1-0 away defeat to qualifying surprise package Chile. This was a result that caused manager Alfio Basile to resign as head coach of the Argentina national team with immediate effect.
Nevertheless, what followed next was something not many football supporters globally could have predicted. Diego Maradona, a football icon, a man well documented in recent years for his personal problems was chosen as the man to get Argentina’s qualification campaign back on track.
Maradona’s reign began with what seemed a routine fixture on paper at home to Venezuela. However, the away side were no longer the pushovers of years gone by following some impressive qualification results in recent times. Nevertheless, as expected, Maradona had the instant reaction as Argentina cruised to a 4-0 victory playing some exquisite football at times.
The new manager’s next fixture would provide him with a much sterner test though. The side were to travel to Bolivia, a trip that is viewed as a great challenge due to the high altitude that the matches are played at. Even so, with Maradona at the helm, many supporters were confident of their team coming away with the three points. Unfortunately, Argentina were humiliated 6-1 at the hands of the Bolivians. With the score poised at 1-1 midway through the first half, Bolivia took the lead in the 34th minute and extended it even further on the stroke of half time to leave the Argies with quite literally an uphill task in the second half. Things went from bad to worse as Angel Di Maria was sent off for Argentina in the 64th minute with the score at 4-1. Bolivia completed the rout to signal Maradona’s honeymoon period as manager well and truly over.
Next up were back to back matches at home to Columbia and away to Ecuador in June. Both countries were competing for 4th place at the time so were likely to prove tough tests for Maradona’s men. A very patchy performance against Columbia saw the hosts run out 1-0 winners thanks to a second half goal from defender Cata Diaz. However, Argentina’s fralities were shown up as they crumbled to a disappointing 2-0 defeat in Ecuador.
With just four matches left, football fans all around the globe were looking forward to the forthcoming Argentina vs Brazil clash. A defeat for Argentina at home would leave them exposed to the teams below. Many felt Argentina would eventually come good despite Maradona’s apparant tactical shortcomings. However, a woeful defensive performance was the catalyst for a memorable 3-1 victory to Brazil in Argentina. This defeat seemed to have a demoralising effect around the whole footballing situation in Argentina. Maradona’s position was being questioned and for the first time it looked as if Argentina might actually miss out on the World Cup. A 1-0 defeat to Paraguay a couple of days later did little to ease these fears.
Just two matches were left and realistically Argentina needed at least four points to have any chance of qualifying automatically. The first of the double header pitted Maradona’s team at home to bottom side Peru. On paper, it looked like an easy win. However, despite dominating, Argentina failed to break the deadline in the first half. An early goal from Higuain looked likely to provide the momentum for a comfortable victory. Once again, Maradona made some rather debatable tactical choices that allowed Peru back into the match. A late goal from Peru looked to have broken Argentina hearts. What followed next was probably the pivatol moment in Argentina’s campaign. With the game destined for a draw, a late scramble saw the ball played to the back post where Martin Palermo converted to give Argentina a last gasp win.
The victory ensured that Argentina needed just a draw in a tricky final fixture away to Uruguay. Considering, Argentina’s record in Uruguay, this was not going to be an easy challenge. In fact, a defeat could very well have seen the nation eliminated if Ecuador had beaten Chile. Nevertheless, one of the most resolute performances under Maradona ensued and a late goal from Mario Bolatti secured a valuable 1-0 win. The result saw Argentina finish in the 4th and final qualifying spot.