No.1 Diego Maradona Magic (Mexico, 1986)
“I sometimes think I preferred the one with my hand. It was a bit like stealing the wallet of the English”
In 1986, Diego Maradona was the finest footballer on the planet. The man dubbed El Diez was a phenomenon. Totally and utterly incomparable to any other player in the history of the game. A thoroughbred genius.
But like so many of the very best players—think Luis Suarez for a modern day reference point—Maradona would do everything in his power for his team to win. Sure, he would usually get his team there by his unbridled ability anyway, but if there was an opportunity to gain advantage, he’d snatch it. In 1986, he almost did that quite literally.
As a collective, Argentina’s 1986 team didn’t quite stand up to the World Cup winning side of eight years earlier. But in Maradona, they had a capricious sprinkling of stardust. The rest of the players would gravitate to Diego and he in turn would galvanise them.
The Albiceleste coasted through the group stages of the 1986 tournament, with Maradona in typically fine form. Then they triumphed over Uruguay to set up a mouthwatering quarter-final clash in Mexico City against England.
The match—as you would expect for a quarter-final—was typically tight. But in the space of four minutes early in the second half, Maradona scored two of the most iconic goals in the history of the game; the two goals that would ultimately define his career and his reputation as one of sports most effervescent figures:
What happened next?
First of all, the good. The second goal scored by Maradona is the greatest goal scored in the history of the World Cup. The Argentinean slalomed his way through the England defence, past challenge after challenge and cooly rounded the ‘keeper to put Argentina 2-0 in front.
England’s star centre-forward at the time Gary Lineker admitted it was a moment of sheer inspiration, per BBC Sport:
That second goal was the one time in my life where I felt like I ought to applaud the opposition. I didn’t, because I was gutted, but it was undoubtedly the greatest goal I had ever seen.
New footage emerged of Maradona’s second goal recently, providing another slant on the control, pace, power and technique that he showcased:
But for some—especially those supporting England—the first goal Maradona scored that day soured what followed it. The ball looped up in the air following Steve Hodge’s attempted back pass, leaving Peter Shilton to challenge for the ball in the air with Maradona.
Somehow, the diminutive Argentinean beat the England keeper to the ball. He peeled off celebrating while the Three Lions players protested to the referee. Maradona had punched the ball into the back of the net. The Argentina skipper later proclaimed that the goal was scored “a little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God”.
Argentina went on to win the World Cup, with Maradona netting a brace in the semi-final against Belgium and playing a vital part in the winning goal in the final scored by Jorge Burruchaga. He was deservedly named as the best player at the tournament and in winning the World Cup, took his place amongst the plethora of footballing greats.
But for all he achieved in the game, it’s those four minutes against England that define the man many would call the greatest footballer of all time.
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