Socceroos coach Graham Arnold declared his team have ‘Argentina lined up in our sights’ when Australia make a historic appearance at the Copa America in June 2020.
Beating the South American giants on home soil is a daunting task. There’s Lionel Messi, recently crowned the world’s best footballer for a record sixth time with the receipt of another Ballon d’Or.
Then there’s Manchester City’s deadly striker Sergio Aguero, Juventus star Paulo Dybala, PSG’s Angel Di Maria, Manchester United’s Marcos Rojo, Tottenham’s Giovani Lo Celso … the list is enough to make your head spin.
But Australia has beaten Argentina before, in the very first senior meeting between the two.
On that historic day, widely regarded as one of the greatest wins in Socceroos history, present coach Graham Arnold was part of the squad.
No wonder Arnold has declared “We’ve actually got a good history against Argentina.”
So can he guide the Australians to a repeat of that famous victory?
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Australia v Argentina: The history
At the senior level, Australia have faced the Bianconeri seven times. One win, one draw, five losses. It’s not the finest record, but there have been many memorable moments. None less than the very first time the duo faced off.
In 1988, Australia invited three teams to our shores for the Bicentennial Gold Cup, celebrating the arrival of the First Fleet two centuries prior.
Reigning Asian champions Saudi Arabia. The world’s number one ranked team Brazil. And Argentina, the reigning World Cup holders. Two years after claiming the World Cup at Mexico ’86 (famous for popularising the Mexican wave, and Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’) the Bianconeri touched down in Australia.
The four-team tournament saw Australia rated severe underdogs. A 1-0 loss to Brazil proved they were no easybeats, and a dominant 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia had the hosts dreaming of reaching the final. If only they could beat or draw with Argentina in their final round-robin clash.
Then, on July 14, 1988, at a newly-opened Sydney Football Stadium, Australia’s finest donned the green and gold to face the world champions.
The greatest Socceroos game ever?
The Socceroos line-up featured many names etched in the annals of this nation’s football history.
Frank Farina, Robbie Dunn, Alan Davidson, Charlie Yankos – and Graham Arnold in the number nine jersey.
In front of advertising boards for Marlboro, Mars, and Milo, players took to a poor playing surface (and wearing the shortest of shorts).
It took just four minutes for the Roos to stun the reigning World Cup champions. Paul Wade poked home after some poor defending and a scramble in the box.
Argentina fought back and equalised on the half-hour mark when a free-kick found an Argentine unmarked on the back post.
He laid it across goal for Bianconeri captain Oscar Ruggeri to score.
Ruggeri, one of the greats of South American football, was on stage during the draw for the Copa America 2020 competition, a fitting honour for the iconic player.
So it was 1-1, Argentina back in the match and ramping up the pressure on the Aussies. Then came one of the greatest goals in Socceroos history.
Charlie Yankos, the Socceroos captain, lined up a free-kick from 30 metres out and directly in front. On the brink of halftime, he charged up and absolutely lashed the ball towards goal. The defender in the wall ducked out of the way, expecting his keeper Luis Islas to comfortably deal with the long-range effort. But the ball dipped and swerved and thundered into the back of the net.
Australia were in front, and they never looked back.
Frank Farina was brought down in the box in the second half and, after minutes of push and shove between the teams, Charlie Yankos buried the resulting penalty.
Then debutant Vlado Bozanoski rose above the defence to head home with ten minutes to spare, and the Aussies were in wonderland. 4-1 against the World Champs, through to the competition’s final on home soil.
The Roos lost that final 2-0 to Brazil (albeit in controversial fashion). Like that mattered. They’d humbled Argentina.
Captain Charlie Yankos said “It was elation. Again, we were the minnows, there were a lot of part-timers and there was a lot of expectation that Argentina were going to kill us.
“For us to go out there and be very, very competitive and come out with a result like that was something extremely special for every player.”
And on THAT wondergoal, he said “I have been trying to hit the target in many, many games and most of the time the ball hits some spectator in the grandstand. On this particular occasion, I can remember everyone just saying, hit it, hit it, hit the target and I just went for it.
“I didn’t realise how it went in until I saw it on tape the next day and it was a big buzz.”
It was the only time the Socceroos beat Argentina, though they came close on multiple occasions.
Maradona vs Bozza
Arnold was again part of the Roos team that faced off against all-time great Diego Maradona in 1993. That was a two-legged home-and-away tie for a spot in the World Cup.
Australia’s side also featured Alex Tobin, Robbie Slater, Ned Zelic, Tony Vidmar and Mark Bosnich, just to name a few.
Argentina had Maradona, Ruggeri, Gabriel Batistuta, and Fernando Redondo, as well as Diego Simeone (now Atletico Madrid manager, who had made his Argentina debut against the Roos in that 1988 defeat).
In Sydney, they drew 1-1. Then an unfortunate own goal in the return leg saw Australia fall 1-0 and miss out on the big stage in heartbreaking fashion.
Maybe Arnold will be out for revenge. More likely he’s out to repeat the ‘wonderful experiences’ he had in those memorable matches.
“Sometimes you reflect back on the wonderful experiences the Socceroos had playing in 1993 at River Plate against Maradona and Simeone and those types of players,” Arnold said on Wednesday.
“And with the Socceroos in 2001 and 2005 playing against Uruguay. That group of players experienced playing in South America.”
It’s an experience he’s delighted the current crop of Roos can share.
“This group of players, close to none of them have had the wonderful experience of playing in a very different football culture of South America.”
The Socceroos will play one of their matches at River Plate’s stadium, where 60,000 fans packed in to watch Maradona against the Aussies in 1993.
“The atmosphere is just completely different to anywhere else in the world,” Arnold said.
But one thing won’t change – his belief that the Socceroos can upset the Argentinians on their home soil.
“Why can’t we shock the world and beat Argentina in their own country?
“That’s the purpose and the expectation.”
The Socceroos have Arnie on their side – and a glorious little slice of history.