22 November 2022


Argentina's World Cup campaign has begun: we take a look back at when "Valdanito" starred in the competition

Argentina's Copa América victory in the summer of 2021 brought a long trophy drought to an end. Indeed, setting aside their gold medals at the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympic Games, the Albiceleste had last won a tournament when they beat Mexico in Ecuador in the 1993 Copa América final. In the 28-year period in between, they lost several finals (four on a continental level and at the 2014 World Cup) and, as a result, had to endure plenty of disappointments.

One such disappointing campaign was their 2002 World Cup experience, as they were eliminated at the group stage (the last time they'd been knocked out so early was in 1962) After drawing with Sweden. That evening in Rifu, Japan, Hernán Crespo found the net for the Albiceleste two minutes from time. He was a real star of Italian football, finding the net 153 times in Serie A across spells at Parma, Lazio, Inter, AC Milan and Genoa. He was a striker who, among other things, bagged some important goals.

Many of his goals were scored for his club sides at continental level (51, 28 of which he netted in the Champions League) and internationally with Argentina; he's his country's fourth-highest goalscorer in history (behind Messi, Batistuta and Aguero but ahead of Maradona). As new faces became part of the first-team setup, he was one of the few constants for an Albiceleste team that reached two Copa América finals and the same stage of the Confederations Cup in the years following their elimination in Japan. In 2006, Argentina's World Cup campaign began in Hamburg on 10 June, with Pekerman's side part of the “Group of Death”.

The Ivory Coast, the Netherlands, Serbia and Montenegro. Tough opponents, starting with the African side in their first-ever World Cup. It was a match that Crespo played a key role in as he bagged the opener after the Ivorians had failed to clear Maxi Rodríguez's free-kick. The No.9’s goal, which was followed by Saviola's finish and Drogba's consolation strike, came after his key contribution in qualifying.

Indeed, he scored seven times during the CONMEBOL qualifying process, only finishing behind Ronaldo in this regard. These goals came during a particularly intense period at club level where he played for Inter, Chelsea and AC Milan (18 goals in 40 matches in all competitions in 2004/05) but missed out on more trophies than he won. Despite being one of the most prolific strikers of his generation, Crespo doesn't have as many medals as you might expect.

Argentina made an excellent start to that World Cup in Germany: following their win over the Ivory Coast, the Albiceleste beat Serbia and Montenegro 6-0 (Crespo was again on the scoresheet) and played out a goalless draw with the Netherlands. Against Mexico in the round of 16, another Crespo goal cancelled out Rafa Márquez's opener before Maxi Rodríguez scored the winner in extra time. The Argentines were dreaming big, but, as so often has been the case in World Cup history, it all came to an end when they came up against the Germans. At the Olympiastadion in Berlin, the same stadium that would host the final, Pekerman's team lost 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. Argentina's goal that day was scored by Roberto Ayala, a former Rossoneri player.

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