Maradona’s second goal against England in the quarter-final of the 1986 World Cup was rightfully voted goal of the century by FIFA. However, if you had been viewing the match pretty much anywhere in England, he would instead be blamed for the crime of the century that had unfolded four minutes earlier when Maradona leapt through the Mexico City sky to punch the ball home with a clenched fist. One player; four minutes; two of the most memorable moments in football of all time.
It is this clenched fist that would grab the headlines around the world whilst simultaneously taking some of the gloss off of his magical second. It is also this clenched fist that would resemble the Argentinians performance on that sunny June Sunday. Outside of football, these two countries had fought one another just four years beforehand during the Falklands War, only adding fuel to the fire for the on-field encounter. The stage was set for one player to steal the headlines and Maradona, harvesting the energy that simmered underneath, was that man – both the villain and the hero.
His long-time friend and musician Fabian Von Quinteiro, referring to the controversial sinking of the Belgrano by the English that saw 323 men lose their lives, said: “The sinking of the Belgrano was also a hand goal.”
In front of 114,000 people watching on in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, Diego Maradona scored the goal of the century and one that has a wider significance to Argentinians as well as modern football.
Efforts had been made to keep the peace in the build-up to the game, at least when the television cameras were present. Prior to kick-off, the Argentina players had gifted the English with a small token pennant, intended to pave over any unease and signify some sort of de-escalation. However, only moments later, during the singing of the English National Anthem, the camera panned to an Argentina team glaring at their English counterparts with a firm look of vengeance.
1982, the same year as the war in the south Atlantic Ocean, also saw Argentina fall out of the World Cup in Spain as defending champions. A successful campaign in Mexico was needed both on and off the pitch. The draw against England was a fortunate bonus, perhaps that of fate.
The first half was mostly uneventful with England adopting a more structured defensive approach which saw them rarely threaten Argentina’s defence. This would be shattered six minutes into the second half when the game came alive through the infamous ‘Hand of God’.
Almost immediately after was Maradona’s 55th minute strike that sent Argentina two goals clear and sparked euphoric celebration. A juxtaposition of brilliance and badness within four minutes. “He toppled his Majesty’s troops with no more weapon to hand than a number 10 stitched on his shirt” is a line from Marado, a song by Los Piojos who were an Argentine rock band of the 1990s.
A goal that defied modern dimensions of football, a slaloming run that pierced through the English one player at a time – Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher (twice), Terry Fenwick and of course Peter Shilton.
The goal altered perception and undoubtedly set a new lap time in terms of technical prowess, one that has arguably only been matched by fellow countryman Lionel Messi. Twelve daring touches of composure and determination guided the ball from the halfway line and into the back of Shilton’s goal. Ten seconds that showcased the best football of an entire century.
Discussing the goal in an interview, Maradona said: “Whenever I see it again I can’t believe I managed it. Not because I scored but because it seems like a goal that just isn’t possible, a goal that you could dream of but never actually score.”
The goal, in addition to Maradona’s overall competition performance that summer, awoke fans to the talent that the small man from the shantytown in Buenos Aires possessed. His global image shifted into another light after that quarter-final.
Domestically, Maradona had only spluttered signs of greatness in the years after Spain 82. He, of course, boasted of an unrivalled scoring record but this was counteracted often through poor discipline and illness. In 1984 he fled Barcelona to seek exile in the south of Italy with Napoli. Almost instantaneously, he morphed into a hero in Naples, winning the hearts of their fans and establishing a timeless legacy. The stage was set for Mexico and the watchful eyes of the world.
Enter Diego Maradona. In typical Maradona fashion, he brought the flames, causing early strife in the squad after he was awarded the captaincy. A shaky Argentina side who had scraped past qualification already looked to be on the ropes. However, Maradona was the glue that held the team together and he would eventually lift the historic trophy after defeating West Germany 3-2 in the final.
Maradona’s ability to ride challenges and feint past players with ease was a watershed moment in the history of attacking football. Maradona single-handedly bid farewell to the days of brutish and stagnant defending; a breath of fresh air for those watching on and a key stage in the evolution of modern football.
However, for the Argentinian’s, the goal’s significance delves deeper and into a more personal and political context. 1982 was fresh in the memory and if it can be suggested that they lost the first battle of the Falklands, they certainly one the second on that pitch four years later, through all means. The goal of the century is remembered outside the stadium it was scored in through a statue of the man himself. If the first goal was a showing of bastardry from Maradona, the second was a definitive dose of mastery and a goal that will live long in the memory of many.