It may not be a rivalry in the true sense of the word, but the duels between Argentina and Mexico have the ingredients to become one.
Argentina and Mexico have a long history in the World Cup. Both are in the top 5 all-time in the number of appearances at the final tournament, and over time they have met 3 times. In Qatar, they will again be opponents at the World Cup, in Group C, which also includes Saudi Arabia and Poland. For the Mexicans, it is a new opportunity to get a positive result for the first time against the two-time world champions.
Mexico has been waiting for a World Cup quarter-final berth since 1986 when it hosted the tournament. Since then, he did not participate in 1990, and in the following 7 editions, he always left the competition in the round of 16. Twice, the Mexicans lost to Argentina, either in dramatic or controversial circumstances.
However, the history of world duels between Mexico and Argentina goes back in time to the inaugural edition, in 1930. In Uruguay, the two teams were part of Group 1 and met on July 19, at the newly built Estadio Centenario. A smooth victory for the South Americans. In the 17th minute, it was already 3-0 for the future world vice-champion. It finished 6-3 and Guillermo Stábile scored a hat-trick, 3 of the 8 goals he scored in that tournament which earned him the top scorer title.
After the 1930 World Cup, for almost a century, Mexico and Argentina only met in friendly matches or unofficial competitions. In 1993, the “El Tri” national team was invited to Copa America. He reached the final, where Gabriel Batistuta’s double brought victory to Argentina (2-1). Another 12 years on, another Mexican disappointment. In the semi finals of the Confederations Cup, where Mexico managed to win against Brazil, the “Cougars” prevailed in the penalty shootout, after 1-1 at the end of 120 minutes.
Although the USA remained the great rival for Mexico, the repeated failures to Argentina in the games at stake were starting to become bothersome. But the 2006 World Cup brought the opportunity for revenge. The Mexicans ran into the South Americans in the round of 16. On June 26, at the Zentralstadion, in Leipzig, Rafa Marquez opened the scoring for “El Tri” in the 6th minute. Hernan Crespo quickly equalized, and the tie held until the end of regular time. It went into extra time, where Maxi Rodriguez scored a career-high, fantastic volley into the box, to send the South Americans through to the quarter-finals.
After just over a year, the two teams met again and in an elimination game – in the semi-finals of the Copa America. Same outcome: Argentina won 3-0 and moved on. It was becoming increasingly obvious that Mexico had developed a real complex. And that if there was a rivalry, it was an extremely unbalanced one. And yet, the one in this whole picture was missing. The scandal! Which came at the 2010 World Cup.
In South Africa, the Mexicans defeated world runner-up France and advanced to the round of 16, for another duel with Argentina. Maradona’s Argentina, this time. Maradona the coach. In Johannesburg, the balance was maintained for almost half an hour. Until Carlos Tevez opened the scoring. Except that “El Apache” was in an obvious offside position. In the end, he admitted that he knew this, but chose not to say anything to the referee. As if to add more fuel to the fire…
That goal was the beginning of the end for Mexico. But also, for his coach. Argentina won 3-1 and Javier Aguirre resigned after failing to achieve his stated goal of qualifying for the quarter-finals.
Since the match 12 years ago, Mexico and Argentina have met four times. Every time, in friendly matches. The South Americans have won their most recent 3 (8-0 overall) and the other match ended in a draw. The last Mexican victory dates back to 2004, a 1-0 in the Copa America, in the group stage. “El Tri” hopes to stop the negative streak and get rid of the Argentine complex at the hands of a former Argentina coach.
Gerardo Martino coached the Albiceleste national team between 2014 and 2016, during which he lost two Copa America finals. Both, in front of the team from Chile. Since 2019, he has been on the Mexican bench and, even if he managed to qualify for the World Cup, “Dad” is not very popular. Like its predecessors, its objective is the quarter-finals of the world, no easy task, especially since, first of all, it has to overcome a difficult group. And of an endless complex…
If tradition is contradicted in Qatar, Mexico will be able to put the past behind it for good. And Gerardo Martino will have a rematch against his compatriots.