The 22nd of June, 1986 will go down forever as one of the most memorable in footballing history because of the two events that took place on this day – one, an Argentine magician scoring a goal with his hand and then the same man mesmerizing six players to score a goal which is considered to be the greatest goal ever scored.
It was proof of the tremendous ability of this stocky Argentine genius, not that any proof was ever needed. Many had lit up the football field before this but on that day, one saw individual brilliance of the highest order.
In todays world of prima-donnas with built up images, it is quite hard to find a truly human footballer. Diego Armando Maradona was just that – the most human of them all. El Diego was a flawed genius – a magician on the pitch but very fragile off it, having made his fair share of mistakes off the pitch.
The fact that he took a club from the wilderness of Italian football to winning the Scudetto – virtually a property of a few specific clubs in Italy at the time – and also carried away the club’s glory days upon his departure, shows the influence that Maradona had over the teams he once represented and the players who played with him.
Some might wonder how Maradona is still the most loved footballer in the world when he has been on the wrong side of FIFA as well as the law throughout his life. Even today, he has been found wanting when it comes to diplomacy. Some wonder why many consider him to be a better footballer, and a more likable one, than Pele, when all the records in the game point towards the Brazilian being the better among the two. But as always, statistics never really tell the whole story.
The reality is that people can relate to Maradona much more than any other ‘star’. He has lived his life like any common man would and has made the same mistakes. Pele was always surrounded by great players, brilliant in their own right, which made sure he was not carrying the expectations of an entire nation on his shoulders. Maradona on the other hand, had the remarkable ability to inspire even mediocre teams to glory.
La mano de Dios – The Hand Of God
The crowning glory in Maradona’s glittering career was lifting the 1986 World Cup but he is remembered most for a particular game against England in the same world cup. The two goals that he scored in that game, both worth remembering for different treasons, broke every English heart and showcased the sublime skill that only Maradona could produce. That game is talked about even to this day.
The 1986 Fifa World Cup was held in Mexico; and Argentina was paired with Italy, Bulgaria and South Korea. The Italian-Argentine rivalry is one which interests many a fan as the two teams are such a contrast when it comes to their approach to the beautiful game.
The Italians were the master planners who relied on a solid defensive structure while Argentina was a team comprising the best artist the world had seen, whose every stride gave the world the most beautiful moments to cherish.
The first round results for Argentina were:
Argentina Beat South Korea 3-1
Argentina Drew Italy 1-1
Argentina Beat Bulgaria 2-0
In the next round, Argentina played their neighbours and familiar foes – Uruguay, whom they beat with a solitary goal; and Maradona’s magic had to wait for another day.
Maradona had scored only one goal going into the quarter-finals. Football is a magical game, though, and that is what was proven during the quarter-final clash on the appointed day when even the gods plotted against England and Maradona scored the famous ‘hand of god’ goal. He didn’t stop there though.
He wanted to prove that if god can score a goal for him, he can score the other by himself and he did just that, dancing past six stunned English players and slipping the ball into the net; effectively ending England’s hopes of securing another World Cup win. It was a game that established Maradona as a legend of the game, one of the true greats, and a wonderful preview to Argentina’s progression into the next round.
In the semi finals, Maradona scored another brace to steam roll a bewildered Belgium team that didn’t know what hit them before facing off in the final against another great team of the world game – West Germany.
Argentina looked to be cruising eight minutes into the second half with a two-goal lead in the WC finals but the Germans hit back with two of their own, the second of which came in the 80th minute but the God of football was able to inspire his team to a grand finish with a third goal in the 83rd minute, which ensured that Maradona lifted the Cup of Life.