Thursday 23 May 2024, 15:00

Argentinian FIFA Legends reflect on nation’s third FIFA World Cup™ crown

  • Zanetti, Verón and Cambiasso served Argentina with distinction

  • The trio racked up a total of 24 appearances across four editions of the global showpiece

  • FIFA caught up with the past masters to revive memories of La Albiceleste's triumphant campaign at Qatar 2022™

Javier Zanetti, Juan Sebastián Verón and Esteban Cambiasso all enjoyed distinguished national team careers in the sky blue and white of Argentina, amassing a combined 24 appearances spanning four instalments of the FIFA World Cup™. The trident’s pedigree on the greatest stage of all leaves them well placed to comment on the significance of the 2022 crop’s trophy triumph on Arab soil, secured courtesy of a nail-biting penalty shoot-out success over France. “Winning our third World Cup was the culmination of a dream. We arrived in Qatar with high hopes, and there were loads of Argentines there waiting for that moment. The fact that we managed to pull it off brought immense joy,” commented Zanetti, who sits third in the national team’s all-time appearance charts with 145 caps to his name, behind Javier Mascherano (147) and Lionel Messi (180 and counting).

FIFA Legend Juan Sebastian Veron during the Player and Legends Interviews

Verón lined up alongside Zanetti at the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ in France – where the South Americans bowed out at the hands of the Netherlands in the quarter-finals – and in the 2002 edition of the global extravaganza in Japan and Korea Republic, in which Marcelo Bielsa’s heavily fancied side crashed out in the group stage.

The midfield maestro, who turned out for Manchester United and Chelsea amongst other heavyweights during the course of a glittering career, underscored the significance of the exploits that saw a third star added to the iconic Albiceleste shirt. “It’s one we’d been waiting for, it’d been a long time coming,” said the La Plata native, who called time on his Argentina career following the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, where Diego Maradona’s charges were put to the sword in merciless fashion by Germany in the last eight.

Diego Maradona head coach of Argentina issues instructions to Juan Veron

“I never came close to winning the World Cup during my national team career. It was something we needed, particularly to create that connection between the new generations [of fans] and their national team. I’m not only talking about the bond with the players, who are very popular, but with the national team itself. The triumph did the Argentinian game the world of good,” commented the Estudiantes legend in reference to the nation’s first FIFA World Cup crown since Mexico 1986. Verón was overlooked in the Argentina squad for the 2006 showpiece event in Germany, where one of the midfield berths went to Cambiasso, whose first and only FIFA World Cup campaign ended in shoot-out heartbreak as Jens Lehmann saved his fateful spot-kick to send the hosts through to the semi-finals.

The high-octane midfielder offered his thoughts on what proved to be a momentous December evening for all of an Argentinian persuasion inside Lusail Stadium: “It was a moment of great joy but also a massive relief because we’d been waiting to lift the World Cup for a long time. It’d almost become an obsession, which is never healthy,” cautioned Cambiasso. “Over the years, some of our results [at the finals] have been really hard to take, like in 2014 when we were beaten finalists, and it was almost as if we were never good enough and it was all doom and gloom, when that really wasn’t the case,” added Cambiasso, who represented his nation between late 2000 and 2011.

IFA Legend Esteban Cambiasso

Casting his mind back to the topsy-turvy Qatar showdown against France, Zanetti referred to the tournament decider as an “emotional rollercoaster” as Argentina claimed a “richly deserved” title. “I remember watching it with my family and the tears of joy we shed as Messi lifted the World Cup. It’s certainly a moment we’ll never forget,” reminisced the Inter Milan stalwart, who earned his maiden senior national-team cap in 1994 before signing off in 2011 following the CONMEBOL Copa América campaign on home soil. Verón, whose first taste of senior international football came in 1996, reflected on the shoot-out win over Didier Deschamps’ troops in the following terms: “As a [former] player, you’re always delighted when your national team do well. What’s more, I pictured my children celebrating, which they weren’t able to do when I played or since then, and to have the chance to taste that joy creates an amazing bond.”

Germany's Torsten Frings in action against Argentina's Esteban Cambiasso

For his part, Cambiasso was keen to highlight the Messi factor when summing up just what the victory meant to the nation: “It was an emotional release after what seemed like an endless wait. It was made all the more special because we managed to do it with Leo out there on the pitch, given everything he’d been through. "I experienced some of those things first-hand as a team-mate. He hadn’t managed to win anything with the national team, despite having won it all at club level and in terms of individual honours. I think that the fact that Leo was the captain who brought the World Cup trophy back home to Buenos Aires made the win that bit sweeter for everyone.”

74th FIFA Congress -  Player and Legends Interviews

Echoing Cambiasso’s sentiments, Zanetti was moved at the sight of five million of his compatriots descending on the streets of the capital to toast their homecoming heroes. “It was such a great feeling and an enjoyable experience. Even to this day, it’s one we look back on fondly.” Verón has his own take on the reasons behind the nation’s fervent post-tournament celebrations. “As a country, we’d really been going through the mill. Football is so central to everything for us and is way more than just another part of life.

"It connects the past, the present and the future. It’s at times like those that the memories of someone who’s no longer with us and of the tough times come flooding back. It grounds you and allows you to forget about the daily grind and your problems. That’s what Argentina’s triumph in Qatar did for us as a country.”

Argentina's Javier Zanetti is challenged by England's Trevor Sinclair