World Cup: Messi and Argentina must now defy history to add global glory to Copa crown

For the first time in 28 years, Argentina head into a World Cup as the reigning champions of South America.

La Albiceleste ended their long wait for a 15th Copa America title last year with victory over fierce rivals Brazil in the final as they made amends for a series of near misses in major tournaments over the previous decade.

Unlike at USA 94, when losing to Romania in the last 16 in one of the all-time great matches, Argentina will be aiming to double up in Qatar by adding to their Copa crown with the most famous trophy of them all.

As they learned all those years ago, though, being the kings of your own continent does not equate to success in the subsequent World Cup.

Ahead of their latest bid for global glory getting under way, Stats Perform looks at why history is not on Argentina's side heading into FIFA's showpiece event.

World cup stat
World cup stat


Argentina booked their place in Qatar with plenty of time to spare, but that alone should not have been taken for granted if the past three decades of qualifying is anything to go by.

Since 1978, three of the 11 Copa America holders have failed to qualify for the following World Cup. The most recent example came just four years ago when Chile, riding the crest of a wave, missed out on a place in Russia.

Colombia failed to build on their 2001 success as they became the highest-ranked side to miss out on the following year's global showpiece, while Paraguay played no part at Spain 82 having been crowned champions of South America in 1979.

Of the past eight Copa champions to successfully qualify for the next World Cup, none have gone on to win the tournament. Indeed, only Brazil have so much as made it past the quarter-finals, doing so in 1998 when losing to France in the final.

Since then, the flagbearers for South America have been eliminated at the quarter-final (Brazil 2006 and 2010) and last-16 stage (Uruguay 2014), or simply failed to qualify (Colombia 2002 and Chile 2018).


South American nations are not unique in this regard, either, as the reigning champions of Europe – the only other continent to have had success at the World Cup – have largely flopped down the years.

The history-making Spain side of 2010 and Germany's class of 1974 are two exceptions, with 13 of the other 15 European champions failing to win back-to-back tournaments. The most recent two examples, Spain in 2014 and Portugal in 2018, won just two out of seven games between them.

At least they qualified, something Italy failed to achieve on the back of their Euro 2020 triumph. It means that of the 22 Copa America and European Championship winners since 1978, seven did not qualify for the next World Cup – a whopping 32 per cent.


While the Azzurri – one of only three sides along with Germany and Brazil to have won the World Cup more times than Argentina – will be watching Qatar 2022 from home, Argentina will be among a handful of teams that fancy their chances of winning the whole thing.

Lionel Scaloni's side are competing in the showpiece for an 18th time, with this their 13th participation in a row – only Brazil (22) and Germany (18) are on longer such runs.

Since the 1978 edition, only Germany (five) have reached the final of the tournament more times than Argentina (four), yet the World Cup has provided far more painful memories than happy ones from an Argentinian perspective over the past three decades, even when factoring in their march to the final eight years ago.

Argentina's past five World Cup finishes
Argentina's past five World Cup finishes

La Albiceleste's only World Cup runs of note since going all the way in 1986 came in 1990 and 2014 when losing to West Germany and Germany respectively in the final.

Their most recent appearance on the biggest stage of them all ended in extreme disappointment as a team boasting Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero only just scraped through the group in second place and were then beaten by eventual champions France in the first knockout round.


Four and a half years on from the tournament in Russia, it's fair to say Argentina are in a far stronger position heading into Qatar 2022 on the back of their Copa conquest last year, which is part of a 36-match unbeaten run.

That victory seemingly lifted the weight off the shoulders of a nation, none more so than Messi, a record seven-time Ballon d'Or winner who had previously been unable to replicate his trophy-laden success at club level on the international stage.

In the view of many, Messi can never truly be compared to compatriot Diego Maradona due to never having guided his national side to a World Cup title – single-handedly or not. As harsh as that may seem, this may well prove to be the Paris Saint-Germain superstar's last chance to put that right.

As the past shows, though, entering a World Cup as South American champions has proved nothing but a hindrance for teams down the years. If Messi is to get his big World Cup moment, and Argentina are to end a 36-year wait to be crowned top dogs, Scaloni's men must not only overcome the world's best sides but also defy the burden of history.