Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Down Memory Lane: You just have to hand it to Maradona

It was standing room only in the media interview centre at the Azteca Stadium, Mexico City, but, fortunately, I had grabbed a front row seat a few yards from the platform after a quick dash from the press box high up in the stand.

We awaited the arrival of Diego Armando Maradona, who had captained Argentina to a 2-1 Mexico ‘86 World Cup quarter-final win over Bobby Robson’s England which produced the worst and best side of this compactly-built genius.

Brazenly he bounced in followed by a coterie of aides and queried what the fuss all about was.

He had been the outstanding performer — scoring two goals —in a dramatic match staged against a backcloth of the Falklands War.

His first was in the 50th minute, an unpenalised handball, the second was rated by FIFA as the Goal of the Century and few would disagree with that description, even to-day 24 years later.

British journalists, irate at England being eliminated, went for the jugular. Asked bluntly if he had punched the ball into the net Maradona, with a look of innocence, replied that it came from “a little with head of Maradona and little with the Hand of God!” Some smiled at the audacity; others shook their heads. A few shouted “rubbish”, disgusted by his blatant cheating, an act of theft similar to France’s Thierry Henry in the South Africa 2010 qualifier against the Republic of Ireland.

It took almost 20 years before Maradona stated categorically in his own television chat show that he had actually punched the ball when jumping with goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Even in those days there was a hue and cry for a new goal-line technology or, perhaps, additional assistants stationed at the goal-line.

That was the tawdry side of Maradona. Next we saw the brilliance, the unbelievable skill of dribbling at pace with the ball, the sprinting over short distances, the entire repertoire which had earned him so much adulation. Collecting a pass on the right side of the pitch, he took 11 steps to carry it well into the England half, and, with body swerves and feints, shrugged off Peter Beardsley, Steve Hodge, Peter Reid, Terry Fenwick, and Terry Butcher and calmly beat Shilton. Pure magic, football played at its zenith and, even if only momentarily, the bad taste from the Hand of God goal, left the mouth.

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