Football is Argentina's most popular sport, the one with the most players (2,658,811 total, 331,811 of which are registered and 2,327,000 unregistered; with 3,377 clubs and 37,161 officials, all according to FIFA) and is the most popular recreational sport, played from childhood into old age. The percentage of Argentines that declare allegiance to an Argentine football club is about 90%.
Football was introduced to Argentina in the latter half of the 19th century by the British immigrants in Buenos Aires. The first Argentine league was contested in 1891, making it the fifth oldest recognised league of a FIFA member (after England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands). The Argentine Football Association (AFA) was formed in 1893 and is the eighth oldest in the world.
The Argentine national team is one of the eight to have won the football World Cup, having done so in 1978 and 1986, and also being runner-up in 1930, 1990, and 2014. They have also won the top continental tournament, the Copa América, on fourteen occasions, and the FIFA Confederations Cup in 1992. The nation's Olympic representative has won two Gold Medals (in 2004 and 2008), while the under-20 team has won a record six U-20 World Cups. At club level, Argentine teams have won the most Intercontinental Cups (9) and the most Copa Libertadores (24).
Women's football has a national league since 1991, the Campeonato de Fútbol Feminino. In turn, the female national representative qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 2007 and won their first Campeonato Sudamericano Femenino (top continental competition) in 2006.
In futsal, Argentina were FIFUSA/AMF Futsal World Cup champions in 1994. They also compete in the FIFA code of futsal, where they finished third in the 2004 FIFA Futsal World Cup. The team also won the FIFA Futsal Copa América in 2003. Moreover, Argentina was world champion in futsal for the visually impaired in 1998.
Argentina also compete in the beach football World Cup, where their best finish was third in 2001.
By 1867 there was a large British community in Buenos Aires who had arrived fresh from establishing their aforementioned, and slightly fictitious "Great British" league (see introduction) (which according to most other accounts was two leagues; a Scottish league and an English league, which would make the Argentine the 4th oldest, but for the sake of this article we will say it was just one.) Most of them had established themselves in Argentina coming from the United Kingdom as managers and workers of the British-owned railway companies that operated in Argentina. British citizens founded social and sports clubs where they could practise their sports, such as bowls, cricket, football, golf, horse riding, rugby union and tennis amongst others.
Two English immigrants Thomas and James Hogg organized a meeting on 9 May 1867 in Buenos Aires where the Buenos Aires Football Club was founded. The club was given permission by the Buenos Aires Cricket Club to make use of the cricket field in Parque Tres de Febrero, Palermo, Buenos Aires, on the site now occupied by the Galileo Galilei planetarium. The first recorded football match in Argentina took place on this pitch on 20 June 1867, being covered by English language daily newspaper The Standard. This newspaper, published in Argentina, was the first one to cover football matches in the country.
The game was played between two teams of British merchants, the White Caps and the Red Caps. In the 19th century it was common practice for teams to be distinguished by caps rather than jerseys. The teams consisted of 8 players each as the organisers were unable to find more players for the match. The line-ups were: Thomas Hogg, James Hogg, William Forrester, T.B. Smith, J.W. Bond, E.S. Smith, J. Rabsbottom and N.H. Smith (one team); William Heald, T.R. Best, U. Smith, H.J. Barge, H. Willmont, R.M. Ramsay, J. Simpson and W. Boschetti (second team). The team led by Hogg won 4-0, according to The Standard newspaper published on June 23.
The so-called "father of Argentine football" was a Glaswegian schoolteacher, Alexander Watson Hutton, who first taught football at St Andrew's School in Buenos Aires in the early 1880s. On 4 February 1884 he founded the Buenos Aires English High School, where he continued to instruct the pupils in the game. In 1891 the Association Argentine Football League was established by Alex Lamont of St. Andrew's Scots School, being the first football league outside of the British Isles. Five clubs competed but only one season was ever played.
In this early period a number of football clubs were set up by the employees of the various British-owned railway companies in Argentina and a number of these teams have survived to the present day, including Ferro Carril Oeste, Ferrocarril Midland, Rosario Central and Talleres.
A new league, the The Argentine Association Football League was formed February 21, 1893 which eventually became the Argentine Football Association. In these early days of football in Argentina nearly all of the players and officials were expatriate Britons or of British extraction and the oldest football clubs in Argentina like Rosario Central, Newell's Old Boys and Quilmes were all founded by British expatriates.
The most successful and admired team of this early period was Alumni founded by graduates and students of Watson Hutton's English High School. Like all of the early clubs it was mainly made up of British players.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the game became increasingly popular amongst other European immigrants especially the Italians.
Most of the early clubs had a policy of excluding the local creole population. The backlash against this policy at Quilmes Athletic Club resulted in the formation of Argentino de Quilmes in 1899, the first of many Argentine clubs for Argentine players. The name Argentino or Argentinos has remained popular in Argentine football. The most famous team with the name is Argentinos Juniors who won the Copa Libertadores in 1985.
The early years of the 20th century saw a huge number of new clubs formed, by 1907 there were over 300 teams in Argentina. Most of the major clubs were created around this period; they played in the national amateur tournament or in local championships. By this time matches had a considerable attendance and as the popularity of the game increased the British influence on the game waned. In 1911 Alumni folded and by 1912 the Association was renamed in Spanish as the Asociación Argentina de Football, although the tradition of giving the clubs English names continued for many years.
During the early 20th century many new football leagues were started in cities across Argentina as the popularity of the game spread out from Greater Buenos Aires, these include Rosario (with the establishment of Liga Rosarina in 1905), Córdoba (1912), Santa Fe (1913), San Miguel de Tucumán (1919) San Luis (1920) and Salta (1921).
Although the city of Rosario did not have an organised league, since 1900 the football squads of Rosario A.C. and Rosario Central had taken part of the first international tournament in South America, the Tie Cup, played by teams of Rosario, Buenos Aires and Uruguay leagues. Rosario Athletic became the first Rosarian team to win an international competition after winning the cup in 1902, defeating legendary Alumni by 2-1 in the playoff match. The squad would win two cups else, in 1904 (beating Uruguayan CURCC 3-2) and 1905 (winning over CURCC again by 4-3) editions totaling 3 championships in 6 years.
Teams from Rosario had also participated in the first national cups organised by the Argentine Football Association, such as Copa de Honor Municipalidad de Buenos Aires, (which Newell's Old Boys and Rosario Central would later win in 1911 and 1916 respectively)
The first official match played by the Argentina national team took place on May 16, 1901 against Uruguay resulted in a 3-2 win for Argentina. This game marked the beginning of the Argentina and Uruguay football rivalry.
The first trophy won by Argentina national team was the Copa Lipton in 1905. They won their first tournament in 1910 (Copa Centenario de la Revolución de Mayo) which was contested between Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile.
In 1916 Argentina competed in the first Copa América which was won by Uruguay, they won the tournament for the first time in 1921 and have gone on to win it a total of 14 times.
In 1928 Argentina competed at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam where they finished runners up to Uruguay. Two years later they competed in the first FIFA World Cup again finishing runners up to hosts Uruguay.
Following two seasons of disrupted play due to mass cancellation and suspension of matches and the mid-season withdrawal of teams in the 1929 and 1930, 18 teams decided to form a breakaway professional league for the 1931 season. The amateur league carried on in parallel until it folded in 1934 with many of the teams joining the new professional second division The creation of the professional league helped curb the exodus of Argentine talent to high paying European football clubs. The 1934 FIFA World Cup Italian national team championship side featured Oriundo in the squad composed of Argentine born players such as Raimundo Orsi, Enrique Guaita, and Luis Monti who also played for Argentina in the 1930 FIFA World Cup.
In 1964 Independiente became the first Argentine club to win the Copa Libertadores, Argentine clubs have won the competition a total of 22 times, Brazil clubs have the second most with 17.
In 1967 Racing became the first Argentine team to win the Intercontinental Cup. Argentine clubs have won the tournament a record nine times.
In 1978 Argentina hosted the FIFA World Cup, they beat the Netherlands 3-1 After extra time to win their first World Cup. They won their second World Cup 1986.
In 1979 a young Diego Maradona was part of the Argentina under-20 team that won the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Argentina have gone on to win a record six U-20 World Cups.
In 1982, due to an uncertain political atmosphere and an extremely unstable government with multiple presidents over the span of a short time, most football clubs were lacking the money to keep top domestic players. 1982 saw a whole slew of players leave Argentina for Europe. Players like Maradona, Mario Kempes (who had already played in Spain and had briefly returned to Argentina), Daniel Passarella and many others leave for Spain, France, Italy or England.
In 1995 Rosario Central became the first club not based in the Buenos Aires province to win an international cup recognised by FIFA, the CONMEBOL Cup. Argentine clubs have won the tournament a record three times.
In 2004 the Argentina Olympic football team won Gold at the Athens Olympic games, they defended their title in 2008 to become the first team to defend the Olympic football title since Hungary in 1968.
Around 450 registered football clubs play in the Argentine Football Association (AFA) league system, which is organized into a pyramid of eight leagues, divided at the third tier between the Greater Buenos Aires conurbation and the rest of the country (Interior). Below the fifth level there are a further 250 regional leagues which are affiliated with AFA and compete for the right to enter the league system at the lowest tier.
The Primera División is the highest level of club football in Argentina. It was founded in 1891 as an amateur competition, becoming professional in 1931 with a league by 18 teams which were dissatisfied with the amateur system they were participating on until 1930. This group of 18 founding members of the present league included nearly all of the most prominent clubs of those times, unified by the idea that full and compulsory amateurism was no longer sustainable (many of those teams are still today among the most popular clubs in Argentina). For many years, the only winners were the so-called "big five" (Boca Juniors, Independiente, Racing, River Plate and San Lorenzo de Almagro). This dominance was finally broken in 1967 by Estudiantes de La Plata; since then, ten other teams have won the championship, resulting in a total of 27 teams having been champions of Argentina as of 2016. River Plate has won the most championships with 36. The only teams outside the Greater Buenos Aires conurbation to have won the championship are Rosario Central and Newell's Old Boys from Rosario, and Estudiantes and Gimnasia y Esgrima from La Plata.
Below the second division, Primera B Nacional, the league system is regionalized with a further three divisions for the Greater Buenos Aires, and three tournaments covering the so-called "Interior" (the rest of the country). Even below these eight leagues, the Argentine football outside the Buenos Aires metropolitan area is further regionalized into nearly 250 regional leagues, consisting of teams which participate in championships and tournaments not directly organized by the Argentine Football Association in order to obtain the right to enter the "Torneo Federal C" (successor of Torneo Argentino C, at the 5th. division of the league system).
The Primera División has been using different formats for its championships, from a double round-robin tournament (1891-1966) to a single round-robin that would become the standard in Latin America, the Apertura and Clausura. In the particular case of Argentina, the Apertura was contested in the second half of the calendar year, and the Clausura was played in the first half of the following year (in order to synchronize the seasons with those of the European football). Different formats used also included the organization of Metropolitano and Nacional championships, that lasted from 1967 to 1985.
The Argentine Primera División league is made up of thirty teams, divided into two zones of 15 teams each. The championship is organized in a single round robin schedule, resulting in a total of fourteen rounds per team. As of 2016, six teams from Argentina are eligible to play the Copa Libertadores. River Plate as the holding title winner, plus the champion and runner-up of Primera División. The other teams that gain a place are the runner-up of Copa Argentina, the winner of "Liguilla Pre-Libertadores" (a small tournament played by teams placed 3rd. to 6th. in Primera División) and the Argentine representative best placed at Copa Sudamericana.
From 1891 to date, River Plate is the most winning team with 36 domestic championships, followed by Boca Juniors with 31 titles. Racing Club holds the 3rd position with 17 titles.
Since the creation of the first league in 1891, several cups have been played in Argentine apart from the main competition, the Primera División championship. The first cup held in the country was the Copa de Honor Municipalidad de Buenos Aires; launched in 1905, it was played until 1936.
The Copa Campeonato, originally awarded to Primera División champion, is the oldest trophy of Argentine football for a current competition, having been established in 1896, three year after the Association was created, and played without interruption until 1926. The Cup received several names, such as "Championship Cup", "Copa Campeonato", "Challenge Cup" and "Copa Alumni", due to the association offered legendary team Alumni to keep the Cup definitely for having won it three consecutive times (1900–02), but the club from Belgrano declined the honour to keep the trophy under dispute.
All those competitions, although not considered league tournaments, are regarded as official titles. For example, the two stars on the jersey of Gimnasia y Esgrima (LP) represent both championships won by the club, the 1993 Copa Centenario de la AFA and the 1929 league title.
There are many local rivalries in Argentine football. The most important is the Superderby, which is contested between Argentina's two most popular and successful teams, Buenos Aires rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors. The English newspaper The Observer put the Superclásico at the top of their list of "The 50 Sporting Things You Must Do Before You Die".
The second most important rivalry in Argentine football is the Avellaneda derby, which is contested between Independiente and Racing, the 3rd and 5th most popular and 3rd and 6th most successful teams of the country respectively, both of Avellaneda. Other important derbies include the derby between Huracán and San Lorenzo de Almagro (has no particular denomination), the Rosarian derby (between Newell's Old Boys and Rosario Central), the Platense derby (between Estudiantes de La Plata and Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata), the West derby (between Ferro Carril Oeste and Vélez Sarsfield), the derby between Atlanta and Chacarita Juniors (formerly denominated "Villa Crespo derby"), the Santafesino derby (between Colón and Unión), the North Zone derby (between Platense and Tigre), the Cordovan derby (between Belgrano and Talleres), the derby between Instituto and Racing de Córdoba (has no particular denomination) and the Tucumanian derby (between San Martín and Tucumán).
The first international club competition was organized by both, Argentine and Uruguayan associations, with the establishment of Tie Cup or "Copa de Competencia Chevallier Boutell" in 1900. The tournament was held until 1919. Several competitions between teams from both countries followed, being the last the Copa Aldao, which last edition was played in 1955.
The most successful Argentine club on the international stage is Boca Juniors. The club has won a total of 22 international tournaments (with 18 recognised by FIFA, being the 3rd most winner club after Barcelona (22 titles) and AC Milan and Egyptian Al Ahly SC with 20 international titles). Three of its wins are the Intercontinental Cup titles of 1977, 2000 and 2003.
Independiente has won the most important continental title on the most occasions, its seven Copa Libertadores titles is a record, as is its feat of winning the title on four consecutive occasions (1972–1975). Also, Independiente was the most successful club on international cups by more than twenty years (now has 16 cups and is overcome by Boca Juniors). These achievements earned them the nickname of Rey de Copas (King of Cups).
A number of other Argentine clubs have won the Copa Libertadores, including Estudiantes de La Plata who won it four times (1968, 1969, 1970, 2009), River Plate (1986, 1996, 2015), Racing (1967), Argentinos Juniors (1985), Vélez Sarsfield (1994) and San Lorenzo (2014).
Some Argentine teams have won international titles without having won a Primera División title, such as Talleres that won the Copa CONMEBOL in 1999 and Arsenal de Sarandí winning the Copa Sudamericana in 2007 (although the team then won a title, the 2012 Torneo Clausura).
Argentine clubs have taken part of the following international club competitions:
Football plays an important part in the life of many Argentines. Even those supporters who usually do not attend the matches watch them on television and comment on them the next day with friends and co-workers. When the Argentina national football team plays (especially during world cup matches), streets tend to look completely deserted as everyone is watching the match. After the victories in 1978 FIFA World Cup and 1986 FIFA World Cup, streets were flooded with people celebrating the championship, making it impossible not to become part of the celebration.
It was in 1986 when the figure of Diego Maradona exploded, becoming an icon not only of Argentine football but of football itself. In Argentina, Maradona became something resemblant of a god (see Maradonian Church), admired by fans of every club (even River Plate).
Argentine fans are not allowed to travel to see their teams in away matches, as they have been banned since 2013.
Hinchas (supporters) create an emotional ambiance in many stadiums, singing and cheering loudly all game long, but since the away fan ban, the atmosphere in many stadia has been poor, with goals for away teams greeted by silence. Also, there has been a preponderance of home wins in the league, as players struggle to perform with no terrace support.
Barra bravas (Argentine organized groups -like the English hooligan firms-) also create occasional problems, usually in riots after the match.