Football is the most popular sport in Argentina and is followed throughout the country with real passion. It is renowned around the world for it history, both in its performances at World Cups, and also for its rivalries with its close neighbors Brazil and Uruguay. Argentina regularly produces the best players in the world. The national league is a strong league with many famous teams such as Boca Juniors and River Plate. However, the club sides cannot match the wages paid by the club sides in the European Leagues and the majority of the best players eventually head to Europe to earn their riches. The national side has won the World Cup twice in 1978 and 1986, and has finished runners up in 1930, 1990 and 2014. The side has also won the South American Championship, the Copa America, on 14 occasions which makes it the second most successful side after Uruguay. The national side has also won the gold medal at the Olympic Games in both 2004 and 2008.
In 1978 the World Cup was held in Argentina and at first the tournament started amid much controversy, being held only two years after a coup de tat. This was during the dirty war period and some sides registered their disapproval at the events that were occurring in the country. Once the tournament started the games that involved the hosts proved to be spectacular events as the Argentina side played in front of packed frenzied home supporters. The side contained exciting players such as Mario Kempes and Daniel Passarella and went on to beat the Netherlands in the final after extra time.
The 1986 World Cup triumph again came amid much controversy. Having qualified for the quarter finals Argentina face England in front of 114,000 spectators at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. The game was held just 4 years after the end of the Falklands war so there was much tension surrounding the match. With the game finely balance at 0-0 Diego Maradona leapt high and beat the England goal keeper Peter Shilton by punching the ball into the back of the net. The referee, thinking that the forward had used his head gave the goal. Five minutes later Maradona then rubbed salt into England’s wounds by going on a wonder run, beating five players, to score the goal that would be later known as the “goal of the century”.
Despite a late England goal Argentina went on to beat West Germany in the final 3-2. This was certainly Diego Maradona’s World Cup and the highlight of a career that at times saw him stand out as the best player in the world. He started out at Boca Juniors but was later transferred to Barcelona where his moments of brilliance were intermingled with episodes of great controversy. He was transferred again to the Serie A leaue in Italy to play for Napoli and this is where his career blossomed. Under his influence the Naples based side won the championship in 1987 for the first time in their history.
More recently the career of Lionel Messi has been just as outstanding as Maradona’s. Born and raised in Rosario, Lionel Messi learned his football with the Newells Old Boys scoring 500 goals in his six years there. Spotted by Barcelona his family moved to the city and he has been part of the Spanish club ever since. For Argentina he has played in three world cups so far, and has scored 61 goals in the 123 appearances he has made for his country. He was also part of the 2005 World Youth Championship winning team and played in the Olympic success in 2008.
For Barcelona since his debut in 2004 he has played 401 games and scored a staggering 366 goals. In his time Barcelona have won the Spanish title 8 times and the Europa League on 4 occasions. He has been awarded the prestigious Ballon d’or award on five occasions, and this is given to the player regarded as the best in the world for that particular season. Argentina has successfully produced teams and players that have lightened up the world stage.