Defending champion Argentina scored an emotional and impressive 4-1 victory over Hungary yesterday in Spain to sustain its World Cup soccer hopes.

Argentina was fighting to salvage its pride, not to mention its position in the tournament, following a 1-0 loss to Belgium in the opening game of this 12th World Cup.

A defeat in the game, played in Alicante, would have sent Argentina home, making it the first defending champion to make a first-round exit since Brazil in 1966. And the Hungarians were in a confident mood after a record-setting 10-1 rout of El Salvador.

But the South Americans came through, paced by Diego Maradona's two goals. The other Argentine goals came from Daniel Bertoni and Osvaldo Ardiles. Gabor Poloskei scored the goal for Hungary with 14 minutes to go.

As the Argentine players left the field, several cried as they acknowledged the waving blue-and-white flags of their fans.

The victory kept Argentina alive although, even if it beats El Salvador as expected, the group could still end in a three-way tie if the Belgians defeat El Salvador but then lose to Hungary.

"The important thing is that the team found its true level," said Cesar Luis Menotti, the manager of the Argentine team.

There was no disputing Argentina's masterly display yesterday. After an early series of misses, Bertoni opened the scoring from close range in the 27th minute and, two minutes later, tried a shot that goalkeeper Ferenc Meszaros could only parry, leaving Maradona with a tap-in.

"The way Argentina played the first 45 minutes, they could have beaten any team in the World Cup," said Kalman Meszoly, the Hungarian manager. "The game was virtually over by halftime."

The second half was only 3 minutes old when Maradona scored again, this time on a shot off his left foot from inside the box. Ardiles got the fourth goal in the 61st minute, tapping in a rebound after Jorge Olguin's shot hit the post.