(CNN Spanish) — The defeat against Saudi Arabia in the debut of the World Cup was a hard blow for Argentina, which arrived as one of the favorites to lift the cup in Qatar. Leo Messi asked for confidence. The statistics prove him right: historically the first result has not defined the fate of the albiceleste.
“We tell people to trust. It is a very hard blow for everyone, for the people, for us. But we tell them to trust, this group is not going to let them down”, said the star of the Argentina team after the match with Saudi Arabia, who won 2-1 in a game scored by the off side of the South American team, which cost him three disallowed goals.
History, at least as far as football is concerned, does not allow us to anticipate the future with certainty. But it does show that Argentina has been able to recover from bad debuts and advance to the round of 16 in previous editions and under the same circumstances, with one exception.
Three failed debuts that did not prevent Argentina from reaching the round of 16
The last unsuccessful debut of the albiceleste dates back to Italy 1990, when the team led by the legendary Carlos Bilardo lost 1-0 against Cameroon, according to DataFactory statistics. Argentina managed to pass the group stage after a victory against the Soviet Union (2-0) and a draw with Romania (1-1) and advanced straight to the final, which they lost against Germany.
Years earlier, in 1982, Argentina lost in their first match against Belgium, which they beat 1-0. It was even worse in 1974, when Poland —with whom they will face Qatar in the group stage— beat them 3-2. In both cases the South American team passed the round.
The case of the match against Poland in 1974 is especially significant because it was the only other World Cup match in which Argentina scored two goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half. But the albiceleste came back with a draw with Italy (1-1) and a win against Haiti (4-1).
In Russia 2018, Argentina did not lose but they did not prevail either, and the 1-1 against Iceland also allowed them to advance to the next phase in second place, behind Korea.
Lose in the debut and be champion? it’s possible
In South Africa 2010, Spain lost 1-0 in their first game of the knockout round against Switzerland. They recovered spectacularly and triumphed in the six games that followed, managing to win the cup for the first and only time in the history of the world.
No, not all numbers are good
Germany and France, the champions of Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018, won in their first group stage matches. Germany thrashed Portugal, reaching a 4-0, while France triumphed with a more modest 2-1 against Australia.
In addition, the statistics show that the two times that Argentina won the World Cup, they had started it on the right foot: they beat Hungary 2-1 in Argentina’s debut in 1978 and Korea in Mexico in 1986.
The three times that the albiceleste was left out in the group stage
Argentina traveled to Europe with a star-studded team that dominated the continent. But the results were not as expected, they suffered an unexpected defeat against Czechoslovakia (1-6) and finished last in their group and eliminated in the first phase. That tournament is remembered for Argentine soccer fans as “The disaster of Sweden.”
A goalless draw against Hungary in their debut, a 1-3 defeat against England and a 1-0 win against Bulgaria at the end condemned Argentina to elimination on goal difference, as they achieved 3 points, the same quantity than England, which finally advanced to the phase together with Hungary.
Korea – Japan 2002
Argentina (who arrived as favourite) began by winning 1-0 in their Group F debut against Nigeria, but a 0-1 defeat against England on the second day forced them to win in the last game against Sweden to advance to the round of 16. final.
Despite widely dominating the game against the Europeans, the Albiceleste team barely managed to equalize in one goal, with which they were eliminated for the first time in the group stage since 1962. It was the end of the cycle of historical players such as the goalscorer Gabriel Batistuta and Claudio Paul Canniggia, who was on the squad but did not play minutes.