History of Argentina in the World Cup

The history of Argentina in the World Cup goes all the way back to 1930 when they were one of the 13 teams to participate in the inaugural event over 90 years ago. Since then, Argentina played in 17 of the next 21 tournaments, up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where the team is now in the final vs. France trying to win one of the best soccer players of all time, Lionel Messi, his first World Cup trophy.

Here is all you need to know about the history of Argentina in the World Cup.

When did Argentina not participate in the World Cup?

Of the 22 World Cups in history, Argentina has appeared in 17 of them.

After taking part in the first two World Cups, Argentina chose not to participate in the next three events.

After Italy hosted the 1934 World Cup, FIFA awarded the 1938 tournament to France over Argentina. Upset that back-to-back World Cups were held in Europe, both Argentina and Uruguay declined their invitations to his event.

After a 12-year hiatus due to World War II, the World Cup returned in 1950, and again, Argentina declined to take part. This time, it was because of a dispute between Argentina and Brazil’s football federations. And after refusing two World Cups in protest of FIFA, the event, and some of its participants, the South American country passed on one more in 1954 for good measure.

Argentina has failed to qualify for the tournament only once. That happened in 1970 when La albiceleste went 1-1-2 in its qualifying group of Peru and Bolivia and didn’t make it to Mexico that year.

Outside of the three times Argentina sat out, and the one failed qualification bid, Argentina has played in every other World Cup.

Argentina’s worst performance at the World Cup

Argentina in the World Cup, Argentina, World Cup, World Cup final
(L-R) Diego Maradona in 1986; Lionel Messi in 2022 | Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images; Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Of the 17 World Cups Argentina has played in, the national team has failed to make it out of the Group Stage just three times. Here is a look at the results of those groups:

HostYearGroupCountries in GroupRecord (W-D-L)WC Finish
Sweden19581West Germany, Northern Ireland, Czechoslovakia1-0-213th
Chile19624Hungary, England, Bulgaria1-1-110th
Korea-Japan2002FSweden, England, Nigeria1-1-118th

The early World Cup exits for Argentina in 1962 and 2002 were bad chapters of the country’s football history that most would rather not remember. However, the 1958 exit was a tournament so bad the people can’t help but recall the agony.

Argentina’s 1958 team was loaded with talent, and expectations were high heading into the World Cup. However, the team hadn’t played in a major international football tournament in 24 years, and the rust showed.

The performance was so awful Argentines now refer to that tournament as “El desastre de Suecia” or “The Sweden disaster.” When the team returned to their home country after the embarrassing exit, 10,000 fans were waiting to heckle them.

That’s why 1958 has to be Argentina’s worst performance at the World Cup ever. 

Round of 16 and second group stage exits 

The history of Argentina in the World Cup includes five exits in the Round of 16 — or more specifically, three exits in the Round of 16 and two in the “second group stage” during a period the World Cup went to that short-lived format.

The Round of 16 exits came in Italy in 1934, the USA in 1994, and Russia in 2018.

In 1934, there was no Group Stage, so when Argentina lost 3-2 to Sweden in the opening match, their tournament was done. In 1994, the Diego Maradona-led Argentina was a favorite but barely got out of their group, finishing third behind Nigeria and Bulgaria. And when they faced Romania in the first knockout game, they lost 3-2.

In 2018, Argentina was again a favorite, with Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuaín, Angel Di Maria, and Javier Mascherano, among other stars. However, they finished second in Group D to the eventual finalist Croatia and lost 4-3 to the eventual champions, France, in the Round of 16.

During the 1974, 1978, and 1982 World Cups, FIFA switched to a new and short-lived format. After the initial Group Stage, the teams were re-seeded and put into two new groups to play a second group stage. The winners of those two groups would play in the final in ’74 and ’78 or in a four-team knockout round in ’82.

In ’74, Argentina moved on to the second group stage but finished last behind the Netherlands, Brazil, and East Germany. In ’82, the squad again made it to group stage numero dos and again finished last behind Italy and Brazil.

Argentina’s quarterfinal and odd semifinal history

Argentina has gone out in the quarterfinals of the World Cup four times.

However, believe it or not, Argentina has never lost in a semifinal. They’ve either failed to get that far or won that game to make it to the final. This means the history of Argentina in the World Cup doesn’t include a single third- or fourth-place finish.

The Argentine history of quarterfinals losses looks like this:

HostYearRound of 16 opponentScoreQuarterfinal OpponentScoreChampion
England1966N/AN/AEngland0-1England
France1998England2-2 (4-3 pen.)Netherlands1-2France
Germany2006Mexico2-1 (a.e.t)Germany1-1 (4-2 pen)Italy
South Africa2010Mexico3-1Germany0-4Spain

Outside of the infamous German beatdown in 2010, the Argentina losses in the quarterfinals have been close affairs. And one other note is that the 2006 and 2010 quarterfinal exits were the first two World Cups for Lionel Messi.   

Argentina has been to five World Cup Finals, winning two 

Related

History of France in the World Cup

The history of Argentina in the World Cup is a history filled with many near-misses and two huge wins. La albiceleste has played in an incredible five World Cup final matches, finishing second three times and winning it all twice.

Argentina has the distinction of playing in the very first World Cup final vs. Uruguay. In that final, the home country was just too strong, and Uruguay won 4-2.

It would take almost 50 years, but Argentina returned to a final in 1978 when they hosted the tournament. Despite the controversy of the Argentine government being a military junta that overthrew the last leaders in a coup just two years earlier, the national team put that aside, and legendary Mario Kempes scored six goals to lead the country to its first World Cup win.

Eight years later, Diego Maradona scored five goals in Mexico — including the “Hand of God” and “Goal of the Century” in the quarterfinal vs. England — to help Argentina capture its second World Cup trophy.  

Following its second win, Argentina would return to the final two additional times. In 1990, the Argentina vs. West Germany match turned ugly. Argentine striker Gustavo Dezotti and defender Pedro Monzón became the first two players sent off in a final during the West German’s 1-0 win.

And in 2014, Lionel Messi made his only World Cup final appearance (prior to 2022). In this match, there was nothing between the two teams for 113 minutes until 22-year-old Mario Gotze put a goal past Argentina keeper Sergio Romero to give Germany the late, dramatic win.