World Cup's Greatest Goals: Diego Maradona (1986, ARGENTINA vs. England)
This week ESPN FC is counting down, in chronological order, 10 of the best goals to have been scored at the World Cup. We'll be bringing you two of the finest per day, but add your own and join the debate in our comments section or via the hashtag #FCWorldCupgoals. Users in the U.S. can watch each goal in the video above, but those outside please click here. Heading into the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, Diego Maradona carried the hopes of a nation on his shoulders. He missed out on a place in Argentina’s triumphant 1978 squad as a 17-year-old, and he failed to successfully spearhead his side to glory in 1982, so Maradona was ready and willing to accept the mantle. The Napoli No. 10 appeared to be a man on a mission in the group stage, assisting on all three goals in a 3-1 victory over South Korea, scoring the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Italy, and assisting on another in a 2-0 win over Bulgaria. Though it must be noted that while Maradona was the chief protagonist, he had a supremely talented supporting cast assisting him, including forwards Jorge Valdano and Pedro Pasculli, goalkeeper Nery Pumpido, commanding defender Jose Luis Brown, and young midfielders Ricardo Giusti and Jorge Burruchaga. In the knockout round against Uruguay, Pasculli provided the key moment, his goal sending the Albiceleste into a quarterfinal showdown with England. The Falklands War between the two nations had ended just four years earlier and the tensions were still high, notably for Maradona -- who was happy to make public his loathing of England.
Maradona’s incredible natural gift, coupled with an inability to steer clear of off-field indiscretions, made him football’s ultimate antihero; the 1986 quarterfinal against England came to symbolise one of the game’s most captivating characters. His infamous Hand of God goal, which gave Argentina the lead in the quarterfinal, was a roguish, villainous act to many observers -- though there are plenty who view it as a moment of inspirational improvisation. Whatever your view, there is no doubting that the inspirational label is far better-suited to his second goal, which came just four minutes later. Exhausted in the searing heat and demoralised from the controversial goal moments earlier, England looked completely powerless as they fell behind 2-0 after a 65-yard solo dribble that has since come to be known as the Goal of the Century. Maradona once remarked, "The first football was the most beautiful present of my life. … The day I was given it, I slept all night, hugging it." On the pitch at the Azteca Stadium, he certainly exhibited a childlike desire to hold on to the ball. "I started off from the middle of the pitch, on the right; stepped on the ball, turned, and sneaked between Beardsley and Reid," Maradona later recalled in "El Diego," his autobiography. "At that point I had the goal in my sights, although I still had a few meters to go. I passed Butcher on the inside and from this point Valdano was a real help, because Fenwick, who was the last one, didn’t leave my side. "I was waiting for him to stand off, I was waiting to pass the ball -- the logical thing to do. If Fenwick had left me, I could have given it to Valdano, who would have been one-on-one against Shilton. But he didn’t do that. So I faced him, then threw a dummy one way and went the other, towards the right. ... Fenwick tried to close in on me, but I carried on and I already had Shilton in front of me. He bought the dummy so I got to the end and went inside. At the same time Butcher caught up with me again and kicked me quite hard. But I didn't care, I'd scored the goal of my life. "Whenever I see it again I can’t believe I managed it, honestly. Not because I scored it but because it seems like a goal that just isn’t possible, a goal that you could dream of but never actually score." Maradona had catapulted himself from Argentine football icon to demigod status in his homeland with a goal that left the world agog. Argentine commentator Victor Hugo Morales struggled to articulate the moment, saying: “I am going to cry! Oh, my God! How beautiful soccer is! What a goal! Diego! Maradona! I am crying, forgive me please … Maradona, with a memorable run, with the most beautiful play of all time… Barrilete Cosmico [translated as Cosmic Kite; a nickname often confused in translation with 'keg' or 'barrel' but explained by the man himself here as being based on Diego's uncontrollable movements], which planet are you from?” Though Gary Lineker grabbed a late consolation goal, the game finished 2-1, with both managers recognising they had witnessed something truly special. Argentina manager Carlos Bilardo described Maradona's strike as "a thing of beauty," while England's Bobby Robson said: "Today he scored one of the most beautiful goals you'll ever see. That first goal was dubious; the second one was a miracle, a fantastic goal. It's that every now and then the world produces a player like Maradona. I didn't like his second goal, but I admire it." Diego would help himself to another match-winning brace in the semifinal, before assisting on the winning goal for Jorge Burruchaga in the thrilling 3-2 victory over West Germany in the final. El Diego lifted the World Cup as captain, but it was his magical moment against England that cemented his legacy.