BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, June 21 – It was a day to live in footballing infamy, a day when the two contrasting sides of Diego Maradona were displayed to the world in the space of four breathtaking minutes at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium.
Thirty years after Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal against England at the 1986 World Cup — and the magnificent solo effort which followed it — the controversy continues to resonate like no other.
Argentina’s 2-1 victory over England in front of 115,000 fans on June 22, 1986 is remembered entirely for the two moments from Maradona which would ultimately settle a contest simmering with political overtones.
Four years earlier, Britain and Argentina had fought a bitter conflict in the South Atlantic over the Falkland Islands, which ended in defeat for the South American nation’s military junta.
For Maradona, who would go on to lead Argentina to victory in the tournament, the Falklands dispute loomed large in his thoughts before the quarter-final.
“It was like beating a country, not a football team. Although we said before the game that football had nothing to do with the war, we knew that a lot of Argentine kids had died there, that they had mowed us down like little birds,” wrote Maradona in his 2000 autobiography ‘I Am El Diego’.
– ‘Our revenge’ –
“This was our revenge. We all said beforehand that we shouldn’t mix the two things but that was a lie. A lie! We didn’t think of anything except that, like hell it was going to be just another game!”
The two defining incidents from Maradona would ensure that the contest would never be remembered as ‘just another game’.
The first came in the 51st minute, when after patient Argentinian approach play, England’s Steve Hodge attempted a risky lofted back pass to goalkeeper Peter Shilton on the edge of the area.
Maradona, who had continued his advance into the penalty area, leapt high to challenge the much taller Shilton and punched the ball into the net before racing away to celebrate.
England’s players protested, signalling to referee Ali Bin Nasser of Tunisia that Maradona had used his hand, but the goal stood.
“I was waiting for my teammates to embrace me, and no-one came… I told them, ‘Come hug me, or the referee isn’t going to allow it,'” Maradona would say later.
In the post-match press conference, Maradona teased reporters with his version of what had happened, attributing the goal to “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”.
– ‘Cosmic comet’ –
There was no debate about Maradona’s second goal, however, which is often cited as the greatest goal in the history of the World Cup.
Gathering the ball in his own half, Maradona accelerated away on a 60-yard run that took him past Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher and Terry Fenwick before he finally stroked home the finish.
Former England striker Gary Lineker, who finished as winner of the Golden Boot at the 1986 tournament with six goals, described Maradona’s virtuoso effort as the best goal he ever saw.
“What can I say about Maradona? The man is a football genius,” Lineker said.
“His solo effort against us was the one and only time in my whole career I felt like applauding the opposition scoring a goal. He showed some amazing individual skill.”
For most English-speaking viewers, Maradona’s second goal was memorable for the succinct piece of television commentary which accompanied it, from the BBC’s Barry Davies: “You have to say that’s magnificent.”
In the Spanish-speaking world, the commentary best associated with the goal, from Uruguayan journalist Victor Hugo Morales, has become part of the folklore of the match.
“Genius! Genius! Genius! There, there, there, there, there, there! Goaaaaaaaal! Goaaaaaaal! I want to cry, oh holy God, long live football! What a goal!,” Morales exclaimed.
“Maradona, in a memorable run, in the best play of all times! Little cosmic comet, which planet did you come from, to leave so many Englishmen behind, so that the country becomes a clenched fist crying for Argentina?”