When Diego Maradona led Argentina to the championship (1986)

It would be a lie to say that everything happened in the 1986 World Cup. Phenomenal goals were scored and countless world-class talents were on display. Countries such as Canada, Denmark and Iraq were participating in the competition for the first time, and the famous Estadio Azteca hosted a thrilling final. This is also the tournament where the fan-favorite Mexican wave is released.

But above all, it was a tournament where a certain Diego Maradona really showed the world of football what he could do with his feet and even his hands…

The Argentinian was in the spotlight with one of the greatest individual performances in football history world cup. The brilliant striker had already made a name for his country four years earlier by scoring two goals at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. But his Argentina team could only qualify for the second group stage and were eliminated after defeats to eventual champions Brazil and Italy.

But this time, Maradona is back in the big leagues, and as Argentina seek their second title after lifting the famous trophy on home soil eight years ago, it was important for him to wear the captain’s armband. The hero then was Mario Kempes, who scored six goals as the South American side went all the way, spurred on by their cheering fans.

That responsibility as a hero now rested on Maradona’s shoulders, and it can be said that the man from Lanus never let his country down.

Maradona helps Argentina pass the group stage

Maradona and Argentina had a difficult start to their quest for fame. They were placed in Group A alongside Bulgaria, South Korea and current champions Italy. Bulgaria would open the 1986 World Cup with a 1-1 draw against the Italians.

Argentina were determined to avoid a similar fate and did so comfortably with a 3-1 win over South Korea. Although he didn’t score, Maradona was the maestro, the striker helped his teammate Jorge Valdano to a double, and the defender Oscar Ruggeri got his name on the scoresheet.

The next title holders were Italy. And this time it was Maradona’s moment to shine, but after Alessandro Altobelli put the Azzurri 1-0 up from the penalty spot, the superstar managed to earn his side a point in a 1-1 draw.

The South Americans returned to winning ways shortly after to claim top spot in the group with a 2-0 win over Bulgaria thanks to goals from Valdano and Jorge Burruchaga. Although he never found the net again, Maradona dazzled the crowd and was on his way to becoming the best player of the tournament.

Road to the final

Now we get to the heart of the matter and the group winners will face Uruguay in the Round of 16. Pedro Pasculli scored the only goal in this fiery match at the Estadio CuauhtĂ©moc in Puebla. But it will be the next round against England and two of the most memorable moments in the competition’s history.

The quarter-finals were close to pitting Maradona and his teammates against another South American team, but a confident England beat Paraguay 3-0 in the quarter-finals. It resulted in a much-anticipated meeting between the two old foes, which should continue the rivalry that began 20 years ago when the nations met in the quarter-finals of the 1966 tournament in England.

At that time, “Wembley” saw Argentina’s captain Antonio Ratti receive a red card in a hotly contested match. The Argentinian did not like the decision of the German referee Rudolph Kreitlein, and the manager of the English national team, Alf Ramsey, described his opponents as animals and angered them.

Of course, non-sporting issues also permeated the rivalry, with the Falkland Islands controversy reaching its peak in 1982, just four years before the Mexico match.

Hand of God and brilliance in solo

But on June 22, 1986, it was football above all else that grabbed the headlines. The game really came down to England in the 51st minute when Argentina attacked with a poor clearance by England’s Steve Hodge. Maradona sensed this was his chance for glory, and he leapt past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and palmed the ball into the net.

Much to England’s fury and anger, the goal was allowed and only after the game did Maradona acknowledge his achievement and say the goal had been scored.”un poco con la cabeza de Maradona and otro poco con la mano de Dios“, in translation”a bit with Maradona’s head and a bit with Die’s handu”. This is how the Hand of God was born.

If Maradona’s first strike was shrouded in controversy, there is no need to complain about the second one. The Argentine star collected the ball in his own half before making a mad dash into England’s penalty area.

The Wizard put the ball 68 meters past four opponents: Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher and Terry Fenwick. According to FIFA’s analysis, he completed 11 touches in 11 seconds, got past a blocking England team and faked a move in front of Shilton to place the ball into an empty net.

16 years later, on the eve of the 2002 World Cup, Maradona’s magical moment was named the Goal of the Century by FIFA.

Argentina won the 1986 World Cup

The two goals were separated by just four minutes and England were shocked by both moves, albeit in completely different ways. Gary Lineker pulled one back for Bobby Robson’s men 10 minutes from time, but it was not enough for Argentina to almost qualify for the next round.

Maradona, who did not seem a bit tired of the media attention around his previous performance, even the current famous goal, scored a double against Belgium in the semi-finals after the match with England.

This time his two goals were separated by just 12 minutes, and while they weren’t as dramatic and controversial as the previous goal, they secured a place in the final against West Germany.

More than 100,000 fans crammed into the Azteca to watch a fierce five-goal thriller with Maradona the main attraction of the day. Despite being beaten from all sides by his opponents, the captain led his team to a memorable 3-2 victory and fans were delighted to see the huge smile he wore as he lifted the famous trophy.

The magician that was Maradona played every minute of the game and earned the respect of almost every spectator – be it fans, officials, coaches or opponents – who did everything humanly possible to stop him. But despite a record number of fouls against the Argentinian hero, his heart was written on the trophy and he deserved to win.

Although England’s Gary Lineker finished the 1986 World Cup with the Golden Boot with six goals, it was Argentina’s star Maradona who won the Ballon d’Or for his spectacular performance. He is one of two Argentines to receive the honor, following Lionel Messi in 2014. The PSG star will be looking to replicate Maradona’s feats to win the 2022 World Cup in Qatar this winter.

Maradona’s last years in Argentina

Maradona then went to two more World Cups for his country, captaining the team each time. The former resulted in another trip to the finals, this time in Italy against West Germany. However, the country’s top scorer was hampered by an ankle injury throughout the competition. He was less effective in front of goal, his side losing 1-0 to the West Germans in Rome in the final.

The United States hosted the 1994 World Cup, but his participation in the tournament was overshadowed by off-field affairs. In true Maradona tradition, the striker came up with a failed doping test after just two games. This, of course, left the authorities with no choice but to send him home.

The first game against Greece was the scene of his last international goal for Argentina and his last appearance came in the next game against Nigeria. Maradona ended a very successful and widely followed international career, scoring 34 goals in 91 games over 17 years.

Messi was the only player to evoke similar feelings among Argentine fans, his magical left foot evoking memories of Maradona wearing the country’s signature stripes. Brazilian legend Pele is of course another player who has shown such phenomenal skills on the football pitch, as has former Manchester United and Northern Ireland player George Best.

But none of them had the same impact on fans as Maradona did. His death in 2020 proved how popular he was with everyone in the football community, everywhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *