With the World Cup approaching, in no particular order I will be writing about the ten most memorable moments from World Cup history in my lifetime over the next few weeks.
To start us off, one of the most controversial….
10. Diego Maradona…’ Hand of God’ – England 1 – 2 Argentina, Quarter Final, 1986
Although I was too young to remember this, it can’t be excluded due to the sheer controversy surrounding it. Every time England and Argentina meet, memories of this incident (dubbed ‘The Hand of God Goal’ thanks to Maradona’s post match claim) come flooding back.
Maradona had already begun making a name for himself in world football by this stage of his career. His technical ability was beyond doubt and his stocky, yet extremely agile physique, glided past defender after defender when scoring his trademark solo goals with his famously accurate left foot. The goals had flown for Argentina and Napoli; who had signed Maradona for a then world record fee of £6.9m rescuing him from his difficult tenure in Barcelona.
The rivalry between the two nations could be traced back to the 1966 World Cup quarter final in which England won a controversial, heated affair 1-0. German referee Rudolf Kreitlein sent off Argentine captain Antonio Rattin who accused the referee of being biased towards a fellow European nation. Following the game, England manager Sir Alf Ramsey branded the Argentinians animals and ordered his players not to swap shirts with their defeated opponents.
The Falklands war of 1982 caused rivalries to worsen and after the game Diego Maradona admitted, “Although we had said before the game that football had nothing to do with the Malvinas war, we knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys there, killed them like little birds. And this was revenge.”
England had defended resolutely in a first half in which Argentina created more than their European opponents yet the tie entered half time poised at 0-0. Peter Beardsley had failed to convert a chance presented to him following a slip by the Argentine goalkeeper and Peter Shilton was kept between busy the English posts. The second half however, was to see one of the most controversial incidents in World Cup history…
Four minutes into the restart, Argentina were in possession when Maradona picked the ball up just inside the England half and proceeded to embark on a typical, direct & skilful run towards the England goal. As he approached the penalty area, he played a short pass inside to Jorge Valdano who mis-controlled, allowing Steve Hodge to get a foot to the loose ball. Hodge’s clearance however was poor, looping back to 7 yards out from the England goal directly into the path of Maradona who had continued his run. Peter Shilton came off his line to clear the danger, but simultaneously Maradona leapt and with a swift movement of his left arm, proceeded to punch the ball into the England net…
Maradona ran to the sideline celebrating, much to the dismay of the England players and coaching staff, of which many later admitted they expected the goal to be disallowed. Inexperienced Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser failed to spot the blatant handball and allowed the goal to stand, causing himself to be immediately surrounded by England players. Maradona claimed, “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.”
Shilton in despair, 10 white shirts in shock, the referee was surrounded, but all to no avail…the goal stood. In the Northern Hemisphere, a nation was cheated. In the Southern Hemisphere, a legend was born and an imperialistic enemy had been smash & grab raided in front of millions.
In a career which intertwined sheer controversy with sheer brilliance, it was only fitting a game of this magnitude would see both sides of this exceptionally talented Jekyll & Hyde-like player unfold dramatically.
Following the controversy of ‘la mano de Dios’, Maradona produced something sublime, spectacular and unforgettable only moments later to further rub salt into England wounds. Maradona picked the ball up 10m inside his own half before embarking on one of the most unforgettable dashes in World Cup history. Skipping past 4 England players, before reaching the final hurdle in his way in the form of Peter Shilton, Maradona paused, before dribbling the ball around the England number 1 and tapping it into the net. The hand of god goal ultimately created a star in Argentina, this goal created an icon and put his team into an unassailable 2-0 lead.
A Gary Lineker goal, attacking substitutions and a late effort from Bobby Robson’s men were not enough; Argentina moved into the semi final.
The aftermath was as expected, controversial. Maradona supplied infamous quotes about revenge and hand of god and Bobby Robson claimed Maradona scored with “the hand of a rascal”. Meanwhile, a statue of Maradona was being planned to be erected outside the Estadio Azteca which hosted the game.
Many years later, Argentinian Roberto Perfumo claimed “In 1986, winning that game against England was enough. Winning the World Cup was secondary for us. Beating England was our real aim”.
Argentina went on to win the World Cup, beating West Germany in a tense affair 3-2 and Maradona was crowned the player of the tournament and England’s Gary Linker collected the golden shoe trophy for the tournament’s highest goal scorer netting 6 times.
Maradona went on to play a key role in the greatest period in the history of Napoli winning the Serie A title twice in the following 4 years along with the UEFA cup and the Coppa Italia. A repeat of the World Cup final would take place 4 years later where it would be the turn of the West Germans to prevail. Maradona was a shadow of his former self, succumbing to the off the field problems that had worsened over the previous few years and failing to have the impact he had on the previous tournament. A subsequent appearance 4 years later would see Maradona sent home in disgrace from World Cup 1994 in the USA for failing a doping test. These subsequent appearances did little to detract from his 1986 performances however, where in the eyes of many, especially in Argentina, Maradona would cement his place as the greatest footballer that ever lived.