Football is Argentina's most popular sport and an integral element of the country's culture. Football was introduced to Argentina by British immigrants in Buenos Aires in the second part of the nineteenth century. The inaugural Argentine league was held in 1891, making it the FIFA member's fifth-oldest recognised league. Argentina is one of eight national teams to have won the FIFA World Cup, having done so in 1978 and 1986, as well as finishing second in 1930, 1990, and 2014. Argentina has also won 14 times in the Copa América continental event and the FIFA Confederations Cup in 1992.
The Olympic squad has won two gold medals (in 2004 and 2008), and the under-20 squad has won a total of six U-20 World Cups. Argentina has a long history of prestige, and many players have contributed to its success over the years. Not only that, but players such as Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, and Gabriel Batistuta, to name a few, have become symbols of the game, instantly recognisable around the globe. Here we take a look at the top 10 Argentina football legends of all time. This list includes players who have retired and are not active.
10. Javier Zanetti
One of football's cruellest injustices is that in his renowned 20-year professional career, Javier Zanetti only appeared in one World Cup. The Inter legend won every trophy available at San Siro, making over 800 appearances for the club for which he now works as a director. His passion to his country is demonstrated by his 143 caps and five goals. While still in his peak, he was overlooked for both the 2002 and 2010 World Cups.
9. Fernando Redondo
In the 1990s, Redondo was a member of the Argentine national team, playing in the 1994 World Cup and winning the 1992 King Fahd Cup and 1993 Copa América. Despite his talent, Redondo's international career was marred by disagreements with managers, the most infamous of which occurred in 1998, when Daniel Passarella used the midfielder's long hair as a cause for his expulsion from the national team. Only 29 times did the footballer appear for Argentina. Redondo was recalled to Argentina's national team for two exhibition matches against Brazil in 1999, while Marcelo Bielsa was the manager.
8. Daniel Passarella
Passarella, regarded as the greatest South American defender of all time, was also a capable goalscorer. With 134 goals in 451 games, he was formerly the greatest scoring defence in football, a record that was eventually beaten by Dutch defender Ronald Koeman. During the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, he captained the team. He was the first Argentine to hold the World Cup, as he received it immediately after Argentina won the final. He also has the distinction of being the first Albiceleste player to have won two World Cups.
7. Angel Labruna
Angel Labruna, Argentine football's Grand Old Man, was a part of River Plate's legendary 'Machine' forward line. Labruna possesses a variety of River Plate records, including a superclásico derby record of 16 goals against fierce rival Boca Juniors. Labruna scored 17 goals in 37 appearances for Argentina's national team. He also took home two South American titles (1946 and 1955). He had the misfortune of having the most of his career overlap with Argentina's refusal to compete in the World Cup, with his only appearance in the event occurring in 1958.
6. Gabriel Batistuta
Batistuta earned the nickname Batigol during his playing career. With 54 goals in 77 official matches, Batistuta was Argentina's all-time best goalscorer until Lionel Messi surpassed him on June 21, 2016. He played in three FIFA World Cups, scoring 10 goals in the process, making him Argentina's all-time leading scorer and the joint eighth-highest World Cup striker of all time. Batistuta is the first player in World Cup history to score two hat-tricks in consecutive tournaments. He won two consecutive Copa América titles (1991 and 1993), the 1993 Artemio Franchi Trophy, and the 1992 FIFA Confederations Cup with the Argentina national team.
5. Ubaldo Fillol
Ubaldo Fillol was a member of the Argentine national team at the 1974, 1978 (when Argentina won and he was named Best Goalkeeper), and 1982 World Cups. He also played in the 1986 World Cup South American qualifiers, but he was not selected for the final team that played (and won) in Mexico. He was particularly well-known for his penalty-saving talents, having saved 25% of all penalty kicks he faced.
4. Mario Kempes
Kempes was a key figure in Argentina's 1978 World Cup victory, scoring two goals in the final and winning the Golden Boot for best striker. He also took home the Golden Ball for player of the tournament, making him one of only three players in World Cup history to win all three medals in the same tournament, joining Garrincha in 1962 and Paolo Rossi in 1982. In 1978, Kempes earned the South American Footballer of the Year award, the Onze d'Or European Footballer of the Year award, and the World Cup Golden Ball.
3. Omar Sivori
Omar is best remembered for his stint with Juventus in Italy in the late 1950s and early 1960s, where he won three Serie A titles among other honours; he also played for River Plate in Argentina and Napoli in Italy. With Argentina, he made his international debut, winning the 1957 South American Championship. Later in his career, he was a member of the Italian national team and played in the 1962 World Cup. In 1957, he was named Best Player in the South American Championship, and in 1961, he was named European Footballer of the Year.
2. Alfredo Di Stefano
Di Stefano is most remembered for his work with Real Madrid during the 1950s, when he was a key figure in the club's dominance in the European Cup and La Liga. In 1957 and 1959, Di Stéfano won the Ballon d'Or for European Footballer of the Year. Di Stefano had remarkable success while playing at the highest level in his native Argentina for only a few years before migrating to Colombia and then Spain. In a match against Bolivia during the 1947 South American Championship, he made his international debut. Di Stéfano's six appearances for Argentina at that tournament would be his final outings for the country.
1. Diego Maradona
Maradona gained 91 caps and 34 goals for Argentina throughout his international career. Maradona participated in four FIFA World Cups, including the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, when he captained Argentina and led them to victory over West Germany in the final, as well as winning the Golden Ball for best player in the tournament. In the late 1980s, he became a hero at Napoli for his participation in the Italian club's metamorphosis into Scudetto champions. As Argentina's finest player, Maradona is pitted against Messi. In their own right, both are legendary.