The United States soccer team is out to prove that history can repeat itself.
The task at hand: Defeating the world’s top-ranked nation, which features the best player on the planet.
Sounds impossible for the No. 31 side in FIFA’s rankings, right? Not if you ask the 1995 U.S. team.
The sides met in a Copa America Group C game on July 14, 1995, in Uruguay. What transpired was one of the most stunning upsets in soccer history.
Behind goals from Frank Klopas, Alexi Lalas and Eric Wynalda, the Americans beat Argentina 3-0 and won the group.
This was the first time the United States would beat the South American soccer power. In all, the U.S. is 2-6-2 against Argentina, the other victory coming in a 1999 friendly.
“We were nobody in the world. We started in the ’90s and we had to inch our way up,” retired defender Marcelo Balboa told The Associated Press. “Back then, we changed our game plan to play against teams. Now they stick to their game plans.”
After beating Mexico in the quarterfinals, the run ended with a 1-0 semifinals loss to Brazil, which beat the U.S. on its soil en route to a World Cup title a year earlier.
Fast forward to Tuesday in Houston, when the U.S. and Argentina will meet for the 11th time. In this matchup against the world’s current No. 1 team, the Americans will have to deal with striker Lionel Messi, the only five-time FIFA player of the year who has a decorated club career but hasn’t won any major trophies with the national side.
“There’s a bunch of very good players on their team. We have a few good players, as well,” U.S. captain Michael Bradley told the AP on Monday. “Sure, on paper they’re the team that everybody thinks is going to win. No problem. But ultimately when that whistle blows it’s still 90 minutes of competition.”
Those 90 minutes will be played without Jermaine Jones and Bobby Wood, whose suspension appeals were denied Monday. They’ll be available for the United States’ last Copa game, whether it’s the third-place game or the final.
The United States had not advanced from the group stage since the ’95 shocker. Now a nation not known for its soccer prowess is one victory away from playing for the title.
“You don’t look at how you’re viewed or who you’re playing against,” U.S. striker Clint Dempsey told the AP. Dempsey’s three goals are one behind Messi and Chile’s Eduardo Vargas, the tournament’s co-leaders. “Hopefully we can keep dreaming and keep going forward.”
Compiled by Noel Harris; The Associated Press contributed to this report.