Football lovers are mourning the passing of Diego Armando Maradona, one of the greatest players of all time. As a tribute to him, we bring you the story of when Oceania crossed his path in 1993. The original version of the text was written in Portuguese by Futebol Portenho, a Brazilian channel specialized in Argentinean football.
The FIFA World Cup qualifiers were initially set up for the 1934 FIFA World Cup. However, it was only for 1998’s edition that CONMEBOL (South American Football Confederation) changed its format so all nations begin to play with each other. Actually, it was for 2002’s edition that all nations faced each other, as Brazil did not have to fight for a place in the 1998 FIFA World Cup because they were World Champions in 1994.
In 1934, Argentina qualified without playing: they would fight for a spot against Chile, but the Chileans give up. From 1938 to 1954, different reasons led La Albiceleste itself to give up participating in the Qualifiers. Since then, the Argentinians only failed to qualify for FIFA World Cup once, in 1970.
Argentina became one of the most important National Teams in the world by winning FIFA World Cup twice: 1978 and 1986. They also reached the final in 1990, but they were defeated by West Germany. La Albiceleste also remained undefeated between 1991 and 1993. They also won winning twice the Copa America in this period.
Despite the great moment, the Argentinians suffered a lot to qualify for 1994 FIFA World Cup. It was in this qualifier that the two-year unbeaten streak was broken, in a 2-1 defeat to Colombia. Even with that defeat, La Albiceleste still had a chance to qualify for the World Cup – and that was when one of the most emblematic defeats in the history of Argentinian football happened: a painful 5-0 defeat against Colombia in Buenos Aires.
With these results, Argentina had to fight for a spot in the World Cup by playing the Inter-Continental Play-off against Australia, which at the time was still a member of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC). For this challenge, head coach Alfio Basile called up Diego Armando Maradona, who had been out of the national team since February of that year.
In the first leg, an 1-1 draw in Sydney, the city that had been chosen to host the 2000 Olympics a few weeks earlier, with Maradona playing the whole match – El Gráfico, Argentina’s leading sports magazine, acknowledged in its post-game edition: “[the Argentine national team is] close to the world stage, far from football”.
The second leg was contested at Monumental de Núñez in Buenos Aires, and Don Diego helped his National Team to defeat the Socceroos by 1-0. This result qualified the South American side to 1994 FIFA World Cup, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of Australians, who almost returned to the world stage after 20 years. You can watch both matches by clicking here.
Maradona was part of Argentina’s squad at 1994 FIFA World Cup, his fourth and last one with La Albiceleste. He played two matches and scored one goal against Greece in the opening round of the tournament. Argentina was knocked-out by Romania in the Round of 16 and Brazil was crowned World Champions for the fourth time in history after defeating Italy in the final clash.