If there was one match that summed up Diego Maradona, then Argentina’s quarter-final clash against England at the 1986 World Cup at the Estadio Azetca in Mexico would be it.
In the 51st minute of the encounter, Maradona after a typical mazy run from the midfield that saw him go past three English players, played a diagonal pass to Jorge Voldano and moved forward, anticipating a pass in the box from Voldano. But the midfielder, with his back to the goal, couldn’t bring the ball under control giving England midfielder Steve Hodge a chance to clear the ball.
However, Hodge’s attempted clearance was headed in the arms of goalkeeper Peter Shilton. But Maradona, having played that ball to Voldano, continued his run through the middle in the hope of a pass. Hodge’s clearance should have been easy catch for Shilton, who had a significant height advantage over the onrushing diminutive Argentine.
But the ball was at the back of the net! How did that happen? The furious England players rushed to the referee claiming handball as Maradona wheeled away to celebrate his goal with his team-mates. The protestations of the English players fell on the deaf ears of the Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser as he had missed the alleged infringement.
As it turned out, Maradona had indeed used his hand to guide the ball past Shilton in order to put his team in front.
Hand of God goal. Video credits: ClassicEngland
It was a moment of street-smartness that the Argentine football prides itself in.
Four minutes later, Maradona produced a piece of sheer magic to glide past Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher (twice) and Terry Fenwick and put the goal past Shilton for a second time – but this time within the rules of the game. That piece of Maradona’s brilliance has come to be recognised as “Goal of the Century”.
Goal of the Century. Video credits: Jenee
Ultimately, Argentina went on to win the game 2-1 and booked their place in the semi-final. But that quarter-final clash will always be remembered as Maradona’s match.
About his handball goal, Maradona later said: “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.'”
At the post-match press conference, Mardona famously commented: “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”. As a consequence that goal has come to be known as “Hand of God”. Argentineans embraced Maradona’s ‘ingenuity’; it was perceived in the country as a revenge for the Falklands War between the two countries.
The former Argentine international Roberto Perfumo stated that “In 1986, winning that game against England was enough. Winning the World Cup was secondary for us. Beating England was our real aim“.
Last year, Maradona paid a visit to Bin Nasser and gifted him a signed Argentine shirt, referring to the Tunisian as “my eternal friend”.
That match greatly encapsulates Maradona: a man blessed with supernatural genius, but a human after all.