With a Lionel Messi penalty, an improbable Julián Álvarez goal off a dribble that started inside his own half and an outrageous Messi assist, Argentina clinched a spot in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Final by beating Croatia 3-0 and improved its semifinal record in the competition to a perfect five-for-five.
But Argentina's history in the final itself, like its most recent semifinal opponent, is checkered.
This will be La Albiceleste's sixth appearance in the final (the '78 tournament didn't have a knockout round/semifinal), and Argentina's going for a third title.
Argentina World Cup final appearances
In the first World Cup final ever contested, Argentina took at 2-1 halftime lead over Uruguay at Estadio Centenario in Montevideo but Uruguay scored three in the second-half en route to a 4-2 victory.
Argentina's star performer that World Cup was Guillermo Stábile, who won the Golden Boot with eight goals.
The '78 World Cup was won by Argentina in auspicious conditions with Argentina hosting the tournament under an authoritarian military junta government. In the first round, Argentina finished behind Italy in group play after losing 1-0 to the Azzurri, but their wins over Hungary and France were highly controversial.
In the second round, Argentina and Brazil drew 0-0 in Rosario, but Argentina finished top of the group after hammering Peru 6-0 on the final matchday to usurp Brazil's goal difference for a place in the final.
Argentina then played a famous Dutch team led by Johan Neeskens, Rob Rensenbrink and Johnny Rep, but the match went to extra time before La Albiceleste scored twice to win 3-1.
’ ?1978 World Cup Final
Argentina 3 ~ 1 Netherlands (a.e.t.)#NEDARG #NED #ARG | #FIFAWorldCup
BBC Sport pic.twitter.com/8GXiSocVcT
— ⏪ (@WorldCup_Rewind) December 9, 2022
Mexico '86. Diego Maradona's "Goal of the Century" and "Hand of God" in the quarterfinals against England is the lasting memory, but Maradona also scored both goals in Argentina's semifinal victory over Belgium.
Diego A. Maradona vs Belgium
World Cup 1986 (Semi Final)The greatest individual display in football history.
— AL (@AlRedentore) June 25, 2022
With the score level at 2-2 against West Germany in the final, Maradona provided the sublime assist for Jorge Burruchaga on Argentina's winner in the 84th minute.
Hay asistencias que te hacen ganar un partido y te dan tres puntos en un torneo. Otras quedan en la memoria, porque te pueden dar un campeonato del mundo.De Maradona a Burruchaga. De Diego a "Burru". El pase que valió una Copa hace 36 años.#DiegoEterno #DiegoArmandoMaradona pic.twitter.com/9xPvwzFJnt
— El Diez Perfecto - Modo Mundial (@DiezPerfecto_10) June 29, 2022
After advancing as one of the best third-place teams in group play, Maradona provided the inspiration in a 1-0 win over Brazil in the Round of 16, and then Argentina needed penalty kicks to get by both Yugoslavia in the quarters and Italy in the semifinals.
The match against Italy — with Maradona playing for Napoli at the time — is perhaps more famous than the final at this point.
In the final, a rematch of the last tournament, West Germany beat Argentina in a game that's not frequently revisited.
Diego Maradona's reaction to the Argentinean national anthem being booed during the Italia '90 Final. pic.twitter.com/Up2Qhw0uqX— 90s Football (@90sfootball) December 13, 2022
Argentina stormed through the group phase with Messi scoring in all three games, and then the supporting cast of Ángel Di María, Gonzalo Higuaín and Maxi Rodríguez delivered in the knockout stages to get Argentina into the final.
It was a familiar foe, Germany, and Argentina had its chances to win in regular time — most notably Higuaín. However, the match went to extra time and Mario Götze struck a crafty winner in the 113th.
2014 World Cup FinalBBC Pundits analyse Higuaín First Half Performance pic.twitter.com/OZF4jECFGh
— My Greatest 11 (@MyGreatest11) July 13, 2022
Argentina is back in the final, awaiting the winner of France vs. Morocco, with Lionel Messi leading the race for both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot. Forward Julián Álvarez has chipped in with four goals and Argentina has found the right pairings in midfield (Rodrigo De Paul-Enzo Fernández) and defense (Nicolás Otamendi-Cristian Romero) after looking hopelessly unbalanced in 2018.