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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK
Argentina's football cocktail
Diego Maradona bemuses England's defence in the 1986 quarter-final in Mexico
Magical Maradona: Argentine football at its best
Argentina are an enigma. Since finishing as runners-up at the first World Cup final in 1930 their history in the tournament has been both beautiful and brutal in equal measure.

The rare mixture of power and passion, flair and fluidity which blesses their team each time the tournament comes around has taken them to the final no less than four times.

They always seem to produce a side littered with skilful stars, but with enough grit and determination not to be dismissed as lightweight.

Argentina lost that first final 4-2 to Uruguay and had to wait 48 years for the chance to make amends.

They boasted the talent to win the trophy again in the 1940s but the Second World War meant the 1942 and 1946 tournaments were abandoned.

Golden era

Those who grew up in the 1970s and 80s will forever remember the goals of Mario Kempes and the magnificence of Diego Maradona.

In 1978 Kempes' six goals, including two in the final against the Netherlands, swept Argentina to their first World Cup success on home turf.

The amazing ticker-tape reception that the thronged thousands of Argentinian supporters showered on their side inside the Estadio Monumental also left an indelible print on the mind.

Argentina's four World Cup finals
Uruguay 1930 L 2-4 Uruguay
Argentina 1978 W 3-1 Holland

Mexico 1986 W 3-2 W Germany

Italy 1990 L 0-1 W Germany

Eight years on it was Maradona's turn to take the footballing world by storm.

Arguably better than Pele, the tiny trickster inspired his side to glory in Mexico 86.

His sensational goal against England in the quarter-finals was perhaps the best ever witnessed at a World Cup tournament.

A mazy run from the halfway line saw him beat the entire England defence as he walked the ball into the net.

He then bewitched Belgium in the semi-finals before running West Germany ragged as Argentina won a memorable final 3-2 after extra-time.

But it was Maradona's second goal against England that best illustrates a different, and somewhat darker side to Argentina's approach to the game.

Controversy

His infamous 'Hand of God' goal was cheating in its most blatant guise.

That merely served to strengthen the accusations of Argentina's detractors who have over the years suggested their determination to win at all costs sometimes sees them go too far.

In the 1966 tournament England manager Alf Ramsey labelled them 'Animals' for their physical approach.

Diego Maradona kisses the World Cup he helped Argentina win in 1986
Sealed with a kiss: Maradona with the 1986 World Cup

And in the 1990 final in Italy, where they lost 1-0 to West Germany, Argentina finished the game with just nine men.

Pedro Monzon and Gustavo Dezotti became the first men ever to be sent off in a World Cup final.

Even the 1978 World Cup success has been tainted by suggestions of impropriety.

Though nothing has ever been proven, eyebrows were raised when Argentina, needing to beat Peru 4-0 to pip Brazil out of the second group stage to make the final, won through 6-0.

It seems that as long as Argentina are around the World Cup will never be short on drama.


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GROUP F
  P GD PTS
SWEDEN 3 +1 5
ENGLAND 3 +1 5
ARGENTINA 3 0 4
NIGERIA 3 -2 1

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