Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 2-The Best (and worst) of Diego Armando Maradona (1986)

Argentina had been through a tumultuous footballing period to say the least since winning the World Cup on their own patch in 1978. In 1982 they had gone to Spain ready to fiercely defend their crown but were mainly fighting with themselves along with their fascist military junta government surrendering to the British just prior to the start of the tournament after the Falklands War. 21 year old Diego Maradona made his debut at a World Cup as the boy king ready to take on the world but managed to have a horrific debut that didn’t justify the hype. Argentina were eliminated in the second round (by Brazil no less) with Maradona sent off. A complete implosion by La Albiceleste.

Coming in to the 1986 World Cup the Argies weren’t seen as one the fancied teams by any stretch. Argentina hadn’t done that well in qualifying and weren’t even one of the fancied teams to make the final let alone win the thing with the lingering memories of 1978 perhaps not being an honest win after the Peru debacle. Economic woes in Colombia had rendered them unable to host the event so Mexico stepped in at the last minute and even survived a massive earthquake to host the event. Argentina would have to do a similar rebuild against all odds to win this World Cup.

Still, Diego Maradona decided that he wouldn’t be the petulant man child like he was in Spain four years ago and decided to take the tournament by the scruff of the neck after settling in Italy with the unfancied Napoli. He was supported along with an all-star supporting cast that embraced wearing the loathed black hat compared to the much loved Brazil’s town sheriff. They loved being Carlton in the 90s, loved being the Detroit Pistons in the 80s, the Australian cricket side in the 2000s…they embraced being the bad boys.

England were coached by Bobby Robson and featured a side with players such as the goal machine (and all round nice guy) Gary Lineker, John Barnes, Peter Shilton, Terry Butcher and the dumbest man in football himself in Peter Beardsley just to name a few. They had lost to Portugal 1-0 in the first match and then tamely drawn with Morocco which had the press on their back but with poor television reception and no phone lines at their cheap hotel complex where they were based the backlash at home didn’t reach them let alone affect them. England then thrashed Poland (thanks to Lineker hat-trick broken arm and all).

In the second round it was Beardlsey and a Lineker double that helped England to a 3-0 win over Paraguay which meant they would face the Argies in the quarter final next. Argentina had beaten South Korea, drawn with the champions Italy and then defeated Bulgaria to top the group with Real Madrid’s Valdano the main destroyer being fed by Maradona. In the second round, their first true test of their temperant, they took on they’re arch rivals Uruguay and despite the brutality from the opposition rose above to defeat them 1-0. The more the world harranged them and hoped for failure they grew stronger and went further in to the tournament. They seemed to feed off the seething aimed towards them. England awaited.

Although players denied that the political situation had any influence on the match both Bilardo and Robson told the players not to mention the Falklands and only talk about football. However, especially the Argentinians could not take the war off their mind after what happened in 1982 with Maradona later saying:

“Although we had said before the game that football had nothing to do with the Malvinas war, we knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys there…and this was revenge.”

The mid 1980s were a period of crisis for English football, not least for their violent followers who in 1985 for the European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus at Heysel had caused the death of 85 fans. This had led to English clubs being banned from international competition but their national team still competed albeit under very strict security measures. Both teams seemed nervous of its importance as the match got underway in the monumental Azteca Stadium in Mexico City in front of just under 120,000. This was a true grudge match that sometimes blurred the lines between sport and politics in the World Cup. The English perhaps had too little respect for the Argentinean side, and notably Maradona, from the beginning as the Argentineans slowly started dominating and had some good chances for bringing themselves ahead although Peter Beardsley had a good chance when the Argentinean goalkeeper Neri Pumpido made a mistake.

The players had seemingly succumbed to the oppressive heat and were wilting which denied the crowd the pitch battle they expected. Six minutes into the second half though came one of the most controversial and infamous moments in World Cup history. Maradona and Valdano were attempting a combination outside the English area but the Aston Villa defender, Steve Hodge, blocked the pass. However, Hodge hit the ball completely wrong and it flew backwards high into the English penalty area. Maradona continued his run into the area, against goalkeeper Peter Shilton, and they both jumped for the ball coming down. Maradona, significantly smaller than Peter Shilton and some 5 foot 6, reached the ball with his left hand and it sailed above Shilton into the goal.

The English immediately protested to the Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser while the Argies celebrated. As the entire world saw the hand on replays on TV, Bin Nasser was surely the only person in the world that had not seen Maradona’s hand touch the ball. But he was the one who had to make the decision. Argentina was ahead 1-0 and the English felt cheated to say the least. Following the game Maradona famously said the goal was “some part of the head of Maradona, some of the hand of god.” This was something that greatly angered many of the normally so satirically humoured Englishmen.

Maradona had cunningly humiliated and angered England and that is how all Argentina fans still see that goal in spite of the controversy it arises. In any case, Argentina was now ahead because of the world’s best footballer’s cheated. It wouldn’t matter though, only three minutes later Maradona showed that he was unique to completely devastate the opposition when scoring what has been considered the goal of the century. Receiving the ball from River Plate’s Hector Enrique (who after the match joked that Maradona could not avoid scoring on such a great pass) in his own half Maradona made the most stunning rush of 60 meters past four English players. With Terry Butcher trying to break him in half he round the keeper Shilton and finished with aplomb to score a second for Argentina.

In 4 minutes Diego Maradona had turned from a punk from the shanty towns of Buenos Aires with potential to a footballing god.

All over the world the goal is legendary. Jorge Valdano has called it another way of tango, a goal of beauty. The Uruguayan commentator Victor Hugo Morales perhaps symbolized the sensation for Argentineans as his emotive screams of goals, and his hilarious and at the same time inspirational despite coming from the country next door:

“Thank you God for football! For Maradona! For… for these tears! For this! Argentina 2, England 0!”

Even the English, in spite of bitterness of the first goal, had to recognise the pure genius of the second goal, as Lineker later recalled:

“The second goal was, and still is, the best goal ever scored. You have to take into account the significance of the football match and the conditions, as it was unbelievably hot and we were playing on a pitch that moved every time you put your foot down. It was pretty unplayable. To do what he did was just extraordinary. I have to say I just stood there on the halfway line and thought, ‘Wow’ ”.

England now had to push forward and suddenly began playing less like sheepish lions. The entrance of the mercurial wingers John Barnes and Chris Waddle helped the ones in white to create some chances against the otherwise very strong Argentinean defence but it was only nine minutes before the end of the match when Gary Lineker scored his sixth goal of the tournament and thus making him top scoring player of the tournament on a cross from Peter Beardsley. This was not enough though. The ever-dangerous Argentinians even hit the post a few minutes later on some of the counter-attacks that they were so brilliant at.

The final result was 2-1 and Argentina would go on to lift their second cup after defeating West Germany and confirming Maradona’s greatness for the ages. Every so often one player is the lifeblood of a side and manages to drag or inspire the team through everything to the final. Rossi did it in 1982, Maradona in 1986 and Zidane in 1998 even with the red card. Some did it all the way to the final but never quite there like Baggio in 94, Cryuff in 1974 and Zidane (again) in 2006. Scotland’s Tartan Army would even award Maradona ‘Scottish player of the year’ for 1986 for his heroics against England.

The sheer nerve of Maradona to claim the first goal and then lay waste to the English with the second is one of the great and still most debated memories in the history of the tournament and always will be. England will get over it…one day.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Dilettante. Traffic Nerd. Behind the Almanac World Cup 100. Keen Cat, Cardie, Socceroo/Matilda, Glory Bhoy.


  1. In 1986 I was in year 7 at Warrnambool CBC. Our woodwork teacher – we called him Bori and I can’t remember the spelling of his name – also took us for our free period where once a week we got to choose an activity to do as a class – normally 10-pin bowling, kicking the footy etc etc. One week he tried to show us all highlights of the world cup, no doubt trying to educate us ignorant country boys about the world game. The poor bugger had no chance. We all loudly protested and none of us paid any attention to the TV, making lots of noise and plenty of rude comments no doubt. He later tried to get us to play a game of soccer, which we did in our own unique way to his frustration. To be fair he did also show us archery one week and shooting (with a pellet gun) another, but that involved us watching him do the said activities and not getting a go ourselves, so you could imagine how much we disliked this class at times. It’s a shame to think back now that we were not able to appreciate what we were watching given the exploits of Maradona and what Argentina achieved that year.

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