The first time Argentina and Germany met in a World Cup, in 1958 in Sweden, the Argentines forgot to bring their uniforms to the stadium. They had to borrow yellow shirts from the local club, IFK Malmo.
That team from Argentina was known as “Caras Sucias” (Dirty Faces) because they were said to play with the joy of dirty-faced kids kicking the ball around on the street. They were expected to be one of the World Cup favorites after dominating the 1957 Copa America, but shortly before the tournament, they lost their three best players. Humberto Maschio, Omar Sivori and Antonio Angelillo — all of Italian descent — left Argentina for big money at Italian Serie A clubs, and were banned from playing for their national team.
Argentina wound up losing 3-1 to West Germany in the opening round, and finished last in the group. It was the start of a long intertwined World Cup history and rivalry between the two soccer heavyweights.
Argentina and Germany meet for the seventh time at a World Cup on Sunday, this time in a much-anticipated final at Maracana Stadium, Brazil’s soccer cathedral. Tickets are soaring as high as $20,000 on the black market, and 100,000 Argentines are expected to descend on the city, most without tickets.
Even LeBron James is in town for the big event, where he’ll get to escape, for a few hours anyway, from the madness surrounding his move from the Miami Heat back to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.
Much has changed since that first meeting between the Germans and Argentines in 1958. La Albiceleste surely will pack their uniforms. Twenty of the 23 men on Argentina’s roster play in Europe without penalty. And, a global TV audience of 1 billion is expected to tune in to the clash of continents.
Even before the teams step onto the field, they will set records.
It is the first time in tournament history that the same teams play in three finals. The other two were in 1986, won by Diego Maradona’s Argentina team, and 1990, won by Jurgen Klinsmann’s Germany team.
They also will tie for most-played fixture in World Cup history with a seventh meeting. After that initial meeting in 1958, the Germans and Argentines faced each other in 1966, ’86, ’90, 2006 and ’10. The only two other teams who have met as many times are Brazil and Sweden.
Germany has had the upper hand of late, winning the past three and eliminating Argentina in the quarterfinals of the past two World Cups. Argentina has won only once in the six times they’ve played.
In 2006, under the direction of coach Klinsmann, host Germany knocked out Argentina in a penalty-kick shootout. Klinsmann’s staff had recorded and taken notes on every Argentine player’s penalty-kick tendencies, and goalkeeper Jens Lehmann used the data to make the right dives on shots by Roberto Ayala and Esteban Cambiasso.
Argentine players were yelling at the German shooters, trying to provoke them. When German shooter Tim Borowski buried what turned out to be the game-winning penalty, he put a finger to his lips to shush the opposing players. Then, when Cambiasso missed his kick, chaos ensued. A melee broke out between the teams as they headed into the tunnel.
Four years later, in South Africa, Germany broke Argentina’s heart again. And that time, it was not close. A 4-0 triumph for Germany was Argentina’s worst World Cup defeat in four decades.
Argentina is determined to change the narrative this time around.
“We want to write a new story,” Argentina defender Jose Maria Basanta said.
Their past two meetings in the finals have been memorable.
In 1986, an electric crowd of 114,600 packed Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca for a high-profile championship match featuring Maradona, the 5-5 dynamo who had made life miserable for all his opponents. Germany, coached by legend Franz Beckenbauer, kept Maradona scoreless.
But two other Argentines scored, forcing a comeback from Germany, which tied it in the 81st minute. . It appeared the match was headed to extra time, but in the 84th minute, Maradona slipped a perfect pass to Jorge Burruchaga, who caught the German defenders off guard to score and give Argentina the Cup.
Four years later in Italy, Germany got revenge.
The German team dominated with 16 shots to just one for Argentina. The match remained scoreless until the 84th minute, when the referee awarded Germany a controversial penalty kick that was converted by Andreas Brehme, and his team held on for the 1-0 win.
As the current German and Argentine squads head into Sunday’s final, coaches and players of both spoke of writing their own history. A European team has never won a World Cup on South American soil.
“That 1990 final was very painful,” Basanta said. “We know what happened. We have to be very concentrated. We are all motivated. We want Sunday’s history to be a positive history. We’ve been touched by a magic wand, and we want to enjoy every minute.”
Said German coach Joachim Loew: “It is a final between two teams that have produced fascinating jewels in the past, in tournaments and friendly matches. It should be a gripping final. We know we can write history. Latin Americans on this continent have been able to dominate. It would be an additional joy for us to win as Europeans on South American soil.’’