Argentina vs England... a (biased) potted history

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History has an ugly habit of rearing its head in football.

Diego Maradona is fond of stating that the Mano de Dios (Hand of God) was revenge for the Falklands/Malvinas war. And as an Englishman living in Buenos Aires, it's been the words ‘Mano de Dios’ that I've heard on a daily basis.

Of the 14 meetings between England and Argentina, each has been a tense, fierce and often ill-tempered affair.

Case closed

The sides first met at Wembley in 1951, the second team after Scotland to play England at the stadium, with the Three Lions winning 2-1.

Next it was England’s turn to tour Argentina. Although the team was officially called an FA XI, the 3-1 win for the hosts was largely considered a victory over England, with one Argentine politician commenting afterwards: "we nationalised the railways [built by the British], and now we have nationalised football."

The second game in Buenos Aires saw Alf Ramsey and Nat Lofthouse take to the pitch, before leaving 36 minutes later as the match was abandoned due to torrential rain.

While the first competitive meeting took place at the 1962 World Cup in Chile, with England triumphing 3-1 in an unremarkable affair.

But then they met again, in the 1966 World Cup quarter-finals.

A heavy-handed Argentine team were battering the English in the first half, but then German referee Rudolf Kreitlein sent off Antonio Rattin who eventually left the pitch accompanied by police. England won 1-0, manager Alf Ramsey said the Argentines behaved like ‘animals’, and a bitter rivalry was born.

"Don't do it George, you've never looked good in stripes" 

They met three times more in friendlies in both Britain and Argentina, resulting in two draws and a win for England thanks to Keegan and Johnson goals, although it was Maradona who was named man of the match with his dazzling runs forward.

But it was the next encounter that would become one of the most famous meetings of all time. Mexico 1986.

There isn’t, of course, one English person or one Argentine who doesn’t know what happened that day in Mexico City. But if you are still bitter (Terry Butcher) then you'd better watch this. While, for everyone else, there's this. Nuff said.

England’s next meeting with Argentina was at Wembley in 1991, ending in a 2-2 draw.

In 1998, one of the most eagerly awaited clashes of the World Cup was England vs Argentina.  An 18-year-old Owen ‘did a Maradona’, Beckham got sent off for ankle-tapping Diego Simeone and Victoria disagreed with the ref as Glenn Hoddle's "Heroic Lions" lost on penalties.

Becks atones for '98 mistake

By 2002 it was time for revenge as "Stupid Boy" Beckham, who by now was captain of his country, finally became the hero from the penalty spot.

And it was another three years before their next - and last - meeting, 39 years after the violent 1966 World Cup encounter that began the rivalry, as England left it late to win 3-2 in a Geneva friendly.

It was reported in The Times as thus: "By the unpleasant standards of previous confrontations, the skirmish between England and Argentina edged towards the saccharine, although the concept is deeply relative. The latest encounter featured punches on the terraces, songs about the Falkland Islands, jibes regarding players’ sexuality and general churlishness that, believe it or not, represents a significant thaw in diplomatic relations."

Owen late show seals England win in Geneva

But Argentina don’t hate the English, they are surprisingly anglophiles. Maybe it is more respect. One high ranking member of Boca Junior’s ferocious hooligan group once told me: "I like the English. We fought them in Sardinia in 1982. They were tough and great fighters. I respect that."

For Argentines, England are just a starter. Their real hatred is reserved for Brazil…

To be continued.


FourFourTwo’s April issue, out now, is a South America special.

It features the 10 best new wonderkids from that continent, including exclusive interviews with Manchester United’s twins Fabio and Rafael da Silva plus Sao Paolo’s £100m-rated “new Kaka” Hernanes.

There are also interviews with Zico and Socrates; a look at the Boca Juniors academy responsible for Tevez, Burdisso, Gago, Banega et al; and the Lord of the Rings star so dedicated to Argentine outfit San Lorenzo that he bunked off a film set to see them play.

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