Diego versus England

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Diego Maradona in action against England at Mexico 1986

  • 35 years ago today Diego Maradona inspired Argentina’s 2-1 win over England
  • It is arguably the best individual performance in World Cup history
  • It included the ‘Hand of God’ and ‘The Goal of the Century’

‘Half-angel, half-devil,’ read the headline in L’Équipe.

The latter referred to the ‘Hand of God’, one of the most infamous goals in football history. The former referred to a goal as heavenly as you’ll ever see.

On its 35th anniversary, FIFA.com recalls the most polarising individual performance, and arguably the greatest, in FIFA World Cup™ history: Diego Maradona for Argentina against England at the Azteca.

Maradona almost moves to England

In 1978, Sheffield United manager Harry Haslam was wowed by a 17-year-old Maradona during a scouting trip to South America. The club agreed a £200,000 deal with Argentinos Juniors, but the deal fell through when the United board refused to cover the £15,000 transfer expenses. The Blades instead signed Alejandro Sabella for £160,000, while, after a spell at Boca Juniors, Maradona moved to Barcelona for a world-record £3 million in 1982.

The jerseys

Pre-tournament, anticipating the searing heat in Mexico, the AFA ordered their light-blue-and-white striped shirts to be made out of Aertex, a lightweight fabric with tiny holes for added ventilation. When they faced Uruguay in the Round of 16, however, they had to use their dark blue away jerseys, which were made out of cotton. Argentina struggled, eking out a 1-0 victory in a late-afternoon kick-off, setting up a showdown with England in which, once again, they’d have to wear their second shirts.

With the match kicking off at midday, when the sun was more potent, Carlos Bilardo realised he needed a solution and sent Ruben Moschella, a member of his backroom staff, out to the Mexico City streets to find more condition-suitable shirts. He came back with two sets purchased from a backstreet shop.

As they were deliberating between them, Maradona walked in. “That’s a nice jersey,” he said pointing to one. “We’ll beat England in that.” Hastily-designed makeshift AFA badges were then sewn on, while silvery, American Football-style shirt numbers were ironed on to the shirts.

The commentary

“Maradona on the ball now,” commentator Victor Hugo Morales told millions of listeners as the Argentina No10 collected possession in the 55th minute. “Two closing him down. Maradona rolls his foot over the ball and breaks away down the right, the genius of world football. He goes past a third, looks for Burruchaga. Maradona forever! Genius! Genius! Genius! He’s still going… Gooooal! Sorry, I want to cry! Good God! Long live football! What a goal! A memorable run from Maradona. The greatest solo goal of all time. Cosmic Kite, which planet did you come from?”

Morales said afterwards: “Violent emotions are something you read about on the crime pages in newspapers, but after what happened to me when that goal went in I think I know all about violent emotions.”

Diego Maradona of Argentina in action against England at Mexico 1986

The shirt

Steve Hodge inadvertently provided the assist for Maradona’s first goal. Unaware that ‘El Diez’ had used his hand to score, and wowed by the Argentinian’s second goal, the England midfielder swapped shirts with the Argentina No10 after the game. 

When Hodge got back to the dressing room, he was given a rollicking from his team-mates and back at the hotel, he got the same treatment from his room-mate, Peter Reid. “Not only has Maradona battered me and handled one in, but I’ve got Hodgy showing me his shirt,” said Reid. “Suffice to say, I gave Hodgy the biggest b**ing he’s ever had in his life.”

Hodge nevertheless called his autobiography The Man with Maradona’s Shirt.

What they said…

“This guy was a streetfighter from Buenos Aires. I don’t think he was coached – I think he was probably un-coachable because he had such talents about him. The pitch was absolutely awful but this guy was running with pace with the ball looking like it was on a piece of string on his left foot. You couldn’t get it off him. Over the 90 minutes I boshed him two or three times and tried to intimidate him – I couldn’t do that. He was talking to me throughout the game, just chatting away to me like this was a walk in the park.”
Terry Fenwick

“Whenever I watch it again I can hardly believe I pulled it off. It was incredible. I wanted to blow up photos of it and put a montage above my bed along with photos of Dalma – my only daughter at the time – and the words: ‘The best things in my life’. That’s all.”
Diego Maradona

“For the first time in my career I felt like applauding the opposition scoring a goal.”
Gary Lineker

“It was a fantastic goal. You see goals like that in a kid’s game in the park, but Maradona went and did it in a World Cup quarter-final.”
Sir Bobby Robson

“He took off from midfield and I was shadowing him closely. When you’re refereeing someone like Maradona, you can’t take your eyes off them. They tried to take him down on three occasions, but his desire for victory kept pushing him forward. Every time I would shout ‘advantage’ until he reached the box. I was watching from outside the box, wondering how this player shook off three defenders, and sprinted for nearly 50 metres. I thought, ‘The defenders will take him down now.’ I was expecting that to happen and was ready to whistle for a penalty. To my surprise, he dribbled past another defender and the goalkeeper to score. I’m proud and honoured as a person and as a referee for having played a role in that historical achievement. Had I whistled for a foul in any of the first three contacts, we wouldn’t have witnessed something that magnificent. That advantage I gave is one my proudest achievements.”
Ali Bin Nasser

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