Coming into the 1991 Copa America tournament, the Argentina national football team hadn’t won the competition since 1959, but everything was about to change in Chile that summer.
Fresh off surrendering their World Cup title to West Germany in the 1990 FIFA World Cup final in Italy – a match that is ranked as the worst FIFA World Cup final ever to be played.
La Albiceleste were on a quest to prove their merit and vindicate their position as the best national team on the South American continent, even though they had relinquished the right to call themselves world champions to Die Mannschaft.
As we count the days down to the 2021 Copa America to be held in Argentina and Colombia, FootTheBall takes a look at Argentina’s triumph in Chile three decades ago that secured their 13th Copa America championship.
ARGENTINA HAD A POINT TO PROVE IN 1991
Entering this tournament, Argentina were without perhaps their greatest player ever – Diego Armando Maradona.
The former Napoli player had received a lot of flak and criticism after La Albiceleste’s win in the first semi-final at Napoli’s Stadio San Paolo (now Stadio Diego Armando Maradona) against hosts Italy.
Maradona scored the winning penalty against the Nerazurri to book a rematch of the 1986 FIFA World Cup final with West Germany. Afterwards he failed a drug test while playing for Napoli and was banned from playing football for 15 months.
Argentina started the tournament in top gear as they won every match in the group stage to finish top of Group A ahead of hosts Chile.
Gabriel Batistuta scored four goals for Argentina in the group stage including an opening match brace with Venezuela as the dethroned world champions showed yet again why they were still a force to be reckoned with even without Diego Maradona.
FINAL ROUND OF 1991 COPA AMERICA GOES RIGHT DOWN TO THE WIRE
Argentina and Chile joined Brazil and Colombia from Group B in the final round of the tournament and continued in the same vein of form from the group stage. In their first match of the final round.
The Argentines won against bitter rivals Brazil courtesy of a first half brace from Dario Franco and a second half goal from then Boca Juniors forward Gabriel Batistuta, who would earn a move to Italian club Fiorentina later in the summer due to his impressive performance at the 1991 Copa America.
In their next match with fellow Group A side Chile, the Argentines were held to a goalless draw by the hosts. Meanwhile, Brazil won their match with Colombia to stay right on the heels of La Albiceleste.
As the final match day arrived, everyone was waiting with bated breath to see who would be crowned the champions of South America – whether it would be the Selecao who would emerge victorious or would Argentina stamp their authority without probably the greatest player ever amongst its ranks at the 1991 Copa America edition.
LA ALBICELESTE WIN FIRST COPA AMERICA SINCE 1959
On the fateful day of the 21st of July 1991, Brazil squared off with tournament hosts Chile, with a goal in each half earning the Brazilians a comfortable victory.
The result put the onus ultimately on the Argentine contingent, who had the task cut out for them clearly – a win would see them lift the title, while anything less than that would hand the title to arch-rivals Brazil. And ultimately, La Albiceleste were up to the task set out before them.
As both the Argentine and Colombian players took to the field, the tension was palpable in the air. The stakes were high for Argentina and La Albiceleste rose to the occasion to successfully secure a first ever Copa America win in more than three decades.
Current Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone opened the scoring in the match early on in the 11th minute to put Argentina top of the group, above Brazil.
Eight minutes later the South American championship was effectively won by Argentina – Gabriel Batistuta scored his sixth goal of the tournament to hand La Albiceleste a two goal advantage and dash any hopes of Brazil lifting the title.
The rest of the first half didn’t see any goals as the Argentine players headed down the tunnel at half-time knowing that the score as it was at that moment would guarantee them a win in Chile.
Similarly, the second half didn’t see any team finding the net until the 70th minute – Colombia’s Antony de Avila scored a consolation goal for Los Cafeteros. And Argentina were able to see off the Colombians on their way to a continental triumph (their fourth and latest on Chilean soil).
Gabriel Batistuta was adjudged the tournament’s top scorer – a feat he would repeat four years later in Uruguay. Argentina had proved the point that they had set out to, winning the continental championship without the assistance of Diego Maradona (something that La Albiceleste would do again in 1993 in Ecuador)