The New York Cosmos had an up-and-down record over the years in friendlies against European and South American teams. They often suffered, and sometimes benefited, from the fact that friendlies between a home team in mid-season form and a visiting team on an off-season tour tend to be an uneven playing field. So the Cosmos can't really be faulted for the fact that their record in games in Europe and South America was a mediocre 18 victories, 25 defeats and 13 ties. Similarly, they shouldn't be given too much credit for their far better record in home friendlies. However, there are two of those home friendlies that do stand out impressively, against the Argentine national team on June 6, 1979 and SV Hamburg of West Germany on June 15, 1983. The Argentina game was a defeat, but it was a 1-0 loss on a late goal against perhaps the strongest opponent the Cosmos ever faced. The Hamburg game was one in which the Cosmos were helped by that in-season advantage, but a 7-2 victory over a team that had just won the European Champions Cup was eye-opening nevertheless.
Argentina, which had won the World Cup less than a year before it played the Cosmos, was not the usual sort of visitor. This was not a team playing vacation games in its off-season. Argentina was getting ready for the 1979 South American championship, in which it was to face Brazil and Bolivia in the first round, and it had just completed a European tour with a 3-1 win over Scotland in Glasgow (at a time when Scotland was still among the world's best). The lineup that Argentina fielded against the Cosmos included six of the 11 who had started in the World Cup final against Holland a year before, goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol, defenders Daniel Passarella, Alberto Tarantini and Jorge Olguin, midfielder Americo Gallego and forward Leopoldo Luque. Among the five replacements was an 18-year-old midfielder named Diego Maradona.
The Cosmos, who were well below full strength, also were missing coach Eddie Firmani, who had been fired five days before despite having coached the Cosmos to the last two NASL titles. Still, they held their own against Argentina, although they were criticized in some quarters for playing too defensively. Argentina's goal came on a header by Passarella in the 88th minute. Cosmos regulars who missed the game due to injury included Franz Beckenbauer, Vladislav Bogicevic and Werner Roth. For the last 12 minutes of the game, the Cosmos lineup included six Americans (plus Canadian goalkeeper Jack Brand). Reporter Ike Kuhns of the Newark Star-Ledger wrote that the Cosmos had played Argentina to a standstill. "Argentina, struggling on the Astroturf, were never able to take charge of the game," Kuhns noted.
For the Cosmos and their fans, the game against Hamburg in 1983 was yet another grand occasion in the Cosmos' brief but spectacular history. They didn't know that it was to be the last such occasion. That Hamburg had beaten Juventus of Italy for the European title a month before made the 7-2 margin particularly stunning. "They'll find excuses for us in Germany," Hamburg general manager Gunter Netzer told the New York Times, "but the truth is that we were embarrassed." Some observers called the second half, in which the Cosmos outscored Hamburg by 6-0, the best 45 minutes of soccer the Cosmos ever played.
Hamburg did have excuses. They weren't used to the Astroturf and the Cosmos were; they were jet-lagged from their flight over the Atlantic; they were missing a few of their stars; they were on vacation and the Cosmos were at work. However, Giorgio Chinaglia, who was splitting time between the Cosmos and Lazio, of which he was by then president and part owner, had flown across the ocean even more recently than Hamburg. He had gotten off a flight from Rome just a few hours before the game. That didn't stop him from scoring two goals, including a spectacular volley early in the second half that tied the score at 2-2. As impressive as it was, however, it still was the last great hurrah for both Chinaglia and the Cosmos.