Estadio Azteca, Mexico City
July 22, 1986
Argentina – 2 (Maradona-2)
England – 1 (Lineker)
Some footballers are often referred to as “God” by their fans. For Diego Armando Maradona the term has a far more literal meaning than others. There have been a number of legendary players over the years – some were arguably more complete players than Maradona. However, no one has ever managed to touch fans on an emotional level like the little Argentine. El Diego has a large array of memorable performances in his career but few come close to his one man demolition act of England during the 1986 World Cup, in a match containing two of the most talked about moments in the history of football.
Argentina qualified for the knockout round after topping Group A ahead of defending champions Italy. They defeated Bulgaria and minnows Korea comfortably but were held to a 1-1 draw by Gli Azzurris. They came up against fierce rivals and neighbours Uruguay in pre-quarter final and eked out a 1-0 victory thanks to a goal from Pedro Pasculli. This was Argentina’s first victory against Uruguay in a World Cup game and it added to their confidence when they faced off against England.
The Three Lions started their campaign on a disastrous note by losing 1-0 to Portugal. They followed it up with another insipid performance and a goal-less stalemate against Morocco. The former champions needed a victory against 1982 World Cup semi-finalists Poland in the last group match to qualify. They finally woke up as FA Player of the Year Gary Lineker struck a fantastic hatrick to help England sail past the Poles 3-0. The scoreline was repeated against Paraguay in the second round as Lineker grabbed two more goals to top the scoring charts.
England and Argentina’s football rivalry, which dated back to the 1966 World Cup and a controversial sending off of Argentine captain Antonio Rattin, was further spiced up by the Falkland Islands conflict few years before the 1986 World Cup. Though never officially recognized as a war in either country, the 74-day long battle cost over a thousand lives. Argentina’s surrender in the conflict was seen as a major embarrassment for the country.
Click here to read other articles in this series
Argentina (3-5-1-1): Nery Pumpido; Jose Luis Brown, Jose Cuciuffo, Oscar Ruggeri, Sergio Batista, Jorge Burruchaga, Diego Maradona, Hector Enrique, Ricardo Giusti; Julio Olarticoechea; Jorge Valdano
England (4-4-2): Peter Shilton; Gary Stevens, Kenny Sansom, Terry Butcher, Terry Fenwick; Glenn Hoddle, Peter Reid, Trevor Steven, Steve Hodge; Gary Lineker, Peter Beardsley
Argentina started this match with a 3-4-1-1 formation with Diego Maradona operating between Jorge Valdano and the midfield as a classical trequartista. England, on the other hand started with a flat 4-4-2 though without traditional wingers. The majestic Azteca stadium was fully ready for this encounter as 114,580 spectators thronged in the arena. The super charged atmosphere inside the stadium also got to players as neither team looked comfortable in the opening few minutes.
The Argentinians settled down first as they began to dominate the possession with the match inching towards the 10-minute mark. Maradona was yet to make a proper impact on the match but he showed a glimpse of his movement in the 9th minute. Some neat interplay between Valdano, Giusti and Buruchaga saw him receive the ball on the right flank. After trapping the ball, Maradona suddenly accelerated and squeezed past Hoddle and Sansom. Terry Fenwick had no choice but to bring him down and immediately received a yellow card.
Two minutes later a moment of madness from Pumpido almost gave England the lead. Reid aimed a long ball for Lineker but it eluded the striker and went towards Pumpido. The Argentine ‘keeper lost his balance despite it being a routine catch and allowed Beardsley to capture possession on the edge of penalty box. Beardsley turned past the diving ‘keeper and tried to score from a difficult angle on the right side but found the side netting instead.
England had another chance in the 23rd minute as Ruggeri’s slip allowed Beardsley another half chance. This time Pumpido confidently smothered the shot to clear any danger. Maradona was being double marked most of the times but he was still finding enough time and space to create chances for his team mates. One such instance came two minutes before the half-hour mark when he flummoxed three surrounding English defenders by back-heeling to Valdano who almost set up a scoring opportunity for Buruchaga. By the half-hour mark, Argentina had firmly taken control of the pace of the game as the English strikers barely got a sniff of the ball.
On the 34th minute, an amusing off-field incident showcased the kind of mental state Maradona was in. While taking a corner he had knocked over the flag, and Costa Rican linesman Morera insisted him to restore it. Maradona went on to set up the flag again with a boyish smirk on his face. Other players might have been suffering from nerves but El Diego was clearly beginning to enjoy himself. In the final quarter of the first half (36th minute), he started a run from deep into his half, showed a clean pair of boots to Hoddle and Butcher but lost his balance before shooting off target. It was a trailer of things to come. A minute later a cross from Maradona almost found the head of Valdano as England were getting pushed back more and more.
Despite Maradona and Argentina knocking at the door steadily, the first half ended goal-less.
Argentina’s first goal and one of the most controversial incidents in football history came six minutes into the second half. After receiving a pass from Olarticoechea.
Maradona continued his run past a couple of defenders and attempted to play a one-two with Valdano. Maradona’s pass didn’t fall for Valdano but was looped weakly towards Shilton by Steve Hodge. Maradona had continued his run into the English penalty box and he jumped to push the ball past Shilton into the goal with his hand. The Tunisian referee (ironically during the match the BBC team were debating on giving matches to officials from less affluent football nations) failed to spot the handball and the goal stood.
England was still reeling for the controversial first goal when the second most famous moment of the match came in the 55th minute. And of course it involved the little magician. Maradona received a pass from Enrique, ten meters inside his own half. He turned with the ball and took out two opponents closing on him – Fenwick and Beardsley. The 10-second sprint that followed is perhaps the most famous sight in football as Maradona got past Butcher, Reid and finally Shilton to score his second goal. It was a devastating combination of power, speed and ball control and showed Maradona at his very best.
Argentina’s second goal finally woke the Three Lions up as England began to make forays into the Argentine defence. At the hour mark, a flick-on from Reid almost set up a chance for Hodge from close range but Pumpido came off his line at the right moment. The Argentine custodian would be called into action two more times in the next five minutes – denying Beardsley and Steven. With quarter of an hour left, Bobby Robson threw in a wild card, bringing in John Barnes for the first time in ’86 World Cup.
Barnes had an immediate impact as he began to stretch the narrow Argentine defensive line. On the 81st minute, Barnes launched a perfectly weighted cross from the left wing as Lineker escaped his marker to pull a goal back. This was his 6th goal of the tournament and his first meaningful contribution in this match.
Argentina created a scoring chance of their own seconds after England’s goal. Maradona’s pass found substitute Tapia inside the English box. The River Plate striker’s shot beat Shilton but hit the post and bounced out.
England would have one last chance for scoring a second goal as Barnes once again floated a cross for Lineker from almost the same position as his assist in the 81st minute. Lineker was inches away from connecting his header but Brown got to the ball milliseconds before him.
When the final whistle went off English players couldn’t have helped but feel hard done by the referee’s decision but in reality they were always second best to an Argentine side which showed more creativity.
England’s tactic of aiming for Lineker with long balls was a complete failure. Lineker was in exceptional form in Mexico but he was kept under a tight leash by Ruggeri in this game. The Argentine central defender forced Lineker to play with his back towards the goal and correctly anticipated some of the long balls launched from midfield.
Glenn Hoddle had a good World Cup in Mexico but England needed proper wingers to stretch the Argentine defence. With Hoddle and Hodge being unable to provide any genuine width, England’s wing play became insipid. They needed technically gifted players to unlock the Argentine defence but Robson chose to start with hard workers. Credit must be given to the legendary coach for switching to a formation with proper wingers in second half. The Three Lions’ game play changed drastically when Waddle and Barnes, both proper wingers, came on and Hoddle moved back into central midfield.
The mutual understanding between Maradona and the two Jorges – Buruchaga and Valdano caused England all sorts of problems in the final third. The technically gifted trio played numerous triangles among themselves and were often part of the elaborate pattern play of Argentina. England didn’t have enough technically skilled players in their starting XI to stop this trio from taking control of the match.
Man of the Match – Diego Maradona
There is a reason why the 1986 World Cup is called Maradona’s World Cup. He was involved in 10 of the 14 goals Argentina scored and single handedly (pun intended) knocked England out in the quarter-final. Both of his goals could knock the stuffing out of any opponent but his overall influence in this match also made a difference. Despite being double marked, Maradona often successfully dribbled past two or three defenders and allowed his team mates more time and space on the ball. He also showed remarkable leadership abilities rallying the team when they were pegged back. He almost assisted a third goal when England were applying most pressure on the Argentine defence and often tracked back to central midfield to help out his defensive partners.
There was no stopping Diego Maradona in Mexico. After easing England out of the World Cup, the little man would once again turn on the magic against a rugged Belgian side. His second-half brace would see Argentina reach their third World Cup final. The South Americans dominated most of the final against West Germany but were left ruing their poor defending from set-pieces as the Germans clawed their way back. It was down to captain fantastic Maradona once again to provide inspiration. He duly obliged by releasing the through pass which led Jorge Buruchaga’s match winning goal. The 1962 World Cup is often referred to as Garrincha’s World Cup but there was never a doubt that the 1986 version indeed belonged to Maradona.
Despite the brilliant second goal, England still feel themselves hard done by thanks to the ‘Hand of God’ goal. The Three Lions would enjoy an era of modest success under Bobby Robson. They went on to qualify for Euro ’88, only to be knocked out in the group stages. In Italia 1990, England would finish 4th after narrowly losing to West Germany in the semi-final after penalties. England has not managed to reach the semi-final stage of a World Cup ever since.