The Sublime and the Terrible

June 22nd marked the 25th anniversary of two contradictory events that happened in one game — Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal and what is considered to be the goal of the 20th century (for a slower version, see this).

It was the 1986 FIFA World Cup quarterfinal between Argentina and England in the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Mexico. Only four years after hostilities between the two nations in the Falklands War had ended, with England emerging victorious, the match was weighted with still fresh memories of the conflict. Although the first half remained scoreless, it was events in the second half that catapulted the match into soccer lore.

Only six minutes into the second half, Maradona, the ball at his feet, cut inside and played it to teammate Jorge Valdano and ran on into the penalty area where he jumped to challenge England’s goalkeeper Peter Shilton for the ball flicked on by Valdano. However, instead of heading the ball, he punched it into the net. What was a clear handball was missed by the officials, but protested by the English players. Maradona himself admitted years later that he did in fact intend to hit the ball with his hand and that he had to convince his teammates, who also knew what happened, to come hug him so that the officials will be deceived into thinking it was an actual goal. He still has not apologized.

Four minutes later, El Pibe d’Oro — the golden boy, as Maradona was called — still in his own half, received the ball from teammate Hector Enrique and turned 180 degrees and started toward the English goal, the ball seemingly glued to his feet. On his way to goal, Maradona dribbled past Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher (whom he evaded twice), and Terence Fenwick, before finally dribbling past Peter Shilton, the goalkeeper, and tipping the ball into goal.

Understandably, many English players from that game still consider him a cheat, as well as many a fan and player in England itself. Gary Lineker, who scored for England later in the game has said that the second goal was the greatest he had ever witnessed, even to Maradona himself in this YouTube video. For Argentinians, their team’s victory was just revenge for the Falklands War defeat (indeed, a friend of mine from Argentina still revels in this, and she is not even a soccer fan).

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