- There was no love lost between Argentina and England
- They became even fiercer enemies after Maradona's first goal
- His second was something nobody could believe
The expressions 'Hand of God' and 'Goal of the Century' form part of football folklore, and for most fans they conjure up memories of one epic encounter. The year was 1986 and Argentina faced England in the FIFA World Cup ™ quarter-finals. History was about to be made in a match that pitted opposing styles and mentalities against each other in the stifling heat of the legendary Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
The game should first be placed in its historical context for the Falklands War was still fresh in the collective memory. Furthermore, the countries shared a footballing rivalry dating back to a stormy encounter at the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England. Ever since, for one reason or another, Argentina-England games had never failed to excite - and this one would prove no exception. But if it already had all the makings of something special, the fact it became a classic was down largely to the efforts of one man, Diego Maradona.
Argentina had enjoyed an easy ride in the competition and took to the pitch in confident mood. Led out by the best player in the world, their captain Maradona, they were determined to go all the way and win back the Trophy they had first lifted on home soil in 1978.
England's glory days of 1966 were now a distant memory but after a disappointing start to their campaign - they had flirted with first-round elimination - their attack was firing on all cylinders. Gary Lineker, ably supported by Peter Beardsley, had followed up his hat-trick against Poland with two more goals against Paraguay. In the absence of the injured Bryan Robson and suspended Ray Wilkins, Bobby Robson's reshaped side had found some form.
Although England defender Terry Fenwick had an early effort on the Argentina goal, the South Americans soon got their fast, short-passing game going at the Azteca, setting the tone with their very first attack after eight minutes. Maradona burst deep into England territory before being brought down by Fenwick some 25 metres from goal and veteran goalkeeper Peter Shilton did well to turn the resulting deflected free-kick round the post.
England, though, then came even closer to scoring when playmaker Glenn Hoddle's defence-splitting pass and Argentina goalkeeper Nery Pumpido's slip gave Beardsley a sight of goal, but his shot ended up in the side-netting (13').
Carlos Bilardo's men immediately picked up the pace. Maradona began tormenting the England back line with his mazy dribbling, winning a series of free-kicks around the box. From one of these, some 25 yards out, Maradona curled in a shot that Shilton was relieved to see shave the post. (33').
By now Argentina were running the show, much to the annoyance of some of the English defenders. Maradona was felled by an elbow in the face from Butcher (40'), but if the Ipswich Town player thought he could put the great man off his game he was to be disappointed. The maestro picked himself up, dusted himself down and exacted revenge - in the most controversial fashion possible.
Another dart through the centre of the England rearguard ended in an attempted one-two with Jorge Valdano. The latter's mishit return pass landed at the feet of Steve Hodge, however, whose sliced clearance ballooned up into the air. Never one to give up on a lost cause, Maradona continued his run, leapt up and punched the ball over Shilton who had come dashing from his line (1-0, 51'). The England players protested in vain as Tunisian referee Ali Bennaceur awarded the goal, convinced Maradona had got his head to the ball.
The 'Hand of God', as Maradona himself called it, unquestionably turned the game. However, as if to make amends, Dieguito then went on to score what is often described as the 'Goal of the Century'. There were 55 minutes on the clock when he won the ball in his own half, escaping the attentions of Beardsley and Peter Reid, and set off into England territory. The 115,000 fans at the Azteca stadium looked on in a trance as he headed towards goal, gliding past first Butcher and then Fenwick before rounding Shilton to make it 2-0. It was a goal in a million by a football genius.
Maradona explained later how he had made the same 'rush' for goal at Wembley in a 1980 friendly against England, but had shot wide rather than go around goalkeeper Ray Clemence. His brother had called him after that game to say he should have rounded the keeper. So Maradona was merely putting his brother's advice into practice, though the question lingers - would he have attempted something quite so audacious with the score at 0-0? In any case, Robson's men were reeling at 2-0, with the Albiceleste imperiously stroking the ball around in midfield.
England were not out of it yet, though. They drew on all their traditional reserves of fighting spirit to find a way back into the game. Hoddle, probably their best performer, had Pumpido back-pedalling with a dipping free-kick from 25 yards and in doing so, stirred his team-mates into action. Robson sent on wide men Chris Waddle and John Barnes as England chased the game and Barnes in particular began to feature heavily.
It was the Watford winger who got to the byline to cross for Lineker to register his sixth goal of the finals. Hope sprang anew in English hearts, even though the Argentinians came within a whisker of extinguishing it from the restart. Another burst forward by Maradona, an exchange of passes with substitute Carlos Tapia and now the Boca Juniors midfielder was sidestepping Kenny Sansom and firing a powerful shot that cannoned off the foot of the post (82').
England fought to the very end. In a final throw of the dice Barnes broke free down the left in a carbon copy of the move that had led to Lineker's goal. The Everton player, who finished as the tournament's leading scorer, got on the end of the cross and must have thought he had equalised. With a desperate lunge, however, Julio Olarticoechea managed to deflect the ball behind for a corner (87').
Now the result was beyond doubt: Argentina were through to the semi-finals. The explosion of joy among the Albiceleste staff at the final whistle proved that the significance of this result transcended mere sport. Maradona himself declared: "That was a final for us. Much more than winning a match, it was about knocking out the English. I will never forget this game." Even better was to follow as Maradona, with his winning mentality and matchless talent, carried his countrymen all the way to the ultimate prize that summer.