Although Argentina have failed to hit the heights since the halcyon days when Diego Maradona ruled the world, their status as one of the teams expected to sucessfully negotiate continental qualifying for the FIFA World Cup finals remains largely unchanged. Even the dramatic failures to punch their full weight at Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006 could not undermine their standing as one of South America's and, by extension, Planet Football's major powers.
Their record in the last three CONMEBOL qualifying competitions underlines the power they wield in their own back yard. Yet despite finishing continental top dogs in 1997 and 2001, and runners-up in 2005, Argentina have shown a recent inability to convert such obvious potential into convincing title challenges come the finals themselves, where they have been strangely absent from the last four since Italy 1990.
The fact that two decades have passed since Maradona inspired the national side to glory at Mexico emphasises the extent of Argentinian underachievement in recent years. When the inimitable No 10 became the second Albiceleste skipper to hoist the game's most coveted piece of silverware aloft in eight years, the South Americans could have been forgiven for thinking that triumph would mark the start of a period of sustained global dominance that would allow them to match the achievements of neighbours Brazil in the competition.
Just four years later they came close to securing a third FIFA World Cup Trophy in four attempts, a feat achieved once before by the Auriverde between 1958 and 1970, only for Germany to deservedly thwart them in the Final.
Maradona was back for more at USA 1994 as part of a side tipped to go all the way. Alfio Basile's men never recovered from the legendary playmaker's positive drugs test in the group phase, however, and when their talisman was sent back home in disgrace, Argentina's challenge fizzled out.
With the Maradona era at an end, the boys in blue and white put on a satisfactory showing at France 1998, experiencing the joy of victory over England in the second round before the pain of quarter-final defeat to Holland following Dennis Bergkamp's magnificent injury-time strike. While the class of 1998 was talented enough, it lacked the hunger and commitment of the unit that Marcelo Bielsa took to Korea/Japan 2002. Nevertheless, those qualities proved insufficient in a disastrous campaign that ended in a shock first-round exit.
Bloodied but not unbowed, the South Americans returned for another tilt at the title at Germany 2006, turning on the style in a dazzling 6-0 demolition of Serbia and Montenegro in the first phase. But after edging past Mexico in a dramatic Round-of-16 tie, Jose Pekerman's charges came off second best in a last-eight penalty shootout to the hosts in Berlin, a defeat that prompted the former youth coach's exit and paved the way for Basile's return to the post he left 12 years earlier.
"Coco" Basile again took charge of a new generation, this time led by Lionel Messi, for Argentina's quest for a tenth consecutive appearance in the FIFA World Cup finals. However, after a loss to Chile in October, their first defeat by their neighbours in 35 years, Basile stepped down as coach.