Mexico City, June 22, 1986. In the quarterfinals of soccer’s World Cup at Azteca Stadium, Argentina and England face off against one another. It is Diego Armando Maradona’s day. The confrontation between the two nations had roots outside the soccer field.
Four years earlier, British and Argentinean soldiers had fought for possession of the Falkland Islands, an archipelago off the coast of Argentina. The English victory was still very fresh in the minds of Argentines, who saw the game as a chance to get revenge. Tension was thick. The English side, coached by Bobby Robson, was counting on the strength of their bomber Gary Lineker. The Argentine coach, Carls Bilardo, relied on Maradona’s talent.
The first half of the game was very balanced. Despite numerous chances to score on both sides, the half finished 0-0. At the beginning of the second half, Diego Armando Maradona took control. In the 51st minute, after a tackle near the English goal, the ball rose up and curved towards the goal. The English goalie Shilton charged out from the net to push it back out of the area, but Maradona got there first, touching the ball and pushing it into the goal for 1-0. The English team protested vehemently that the goal be annulled, calling a hand foul, but the Tunisian referee, Bennaceur, was unmoved and the goal was upheld. Television replays showed clearly that Maradona had touched the soccer ball with his left hand. The Argentinean champion took only four minutes to make up for the dirty play. In the 55th minute, Maradona took possession of the ball at midfield. Using quick feet, he bypassed two rivals and flew towards the goal where he dribbled around two more English defenders, the goalie and scored a goal: 2-0. The crowd was amazed: it was one of the most beautiful goals in the history of soccer. England cut Argentina’s lead in the 78th minute when Lineker scored, but they could not score the equalizer.
The Argentineans won 2-1 and went on to the next round.
Maradona also carried his team against Belgium in the semifinals, and again against West Germany in the final. In the end, Argentina won its second World Cup. But Argentina’s victory against England extended beyond what happened on the field. For Argentina, it was as if divine justice had made amends for the Falklands War. Although Maradona continued to deny he’d scored using his hand, after the game he affirmed enigmatically that the goal had been scored partly using his head, and partly by the Mano de Dios. Maradona defended that version of the story for over 20 years. The first admission as to what really happened came only in 2005. Three years later he apologized to England. Argentina vs. England became the stuff of legend, the match in which Maradona revealed his true essence: an athlete of both genius and contradiction.