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World Cup 1986

Winners Argentina
Teams: 24
Teams in qualifiers: 121
Notable absentees: Netherlands
Surprises: Canada, Iraq
Golden Boot: Gary Lineker (England) -- 6
Stats: A total of 132 goals were scored (2.54 per match); Argentina (14) scored the most
Format: Six groups of four, with the top two teams in each group advancing to a knockout round of 16, plus four best third-place finishers
Number of matches: 52

• The group-style second round was scrapped and replaced with a straight knockout tournament Controversies
• Colombia were the original choice as hosts but economic chaos meant they in effect had to withdraw. Hopes of an open system for finding a replacement were all but ended when FIFA president Joao Havelange headed straight from the 1982 final to Mexico
• The sometimes brilliant, sometimes disgraceful Diego Maradona's handball to score against England stirred passions on both sides of the Atlantic. Afterwards, he smiled and said it was scored "a bit with the head of Maradona and another bit with the hand of God"

• Iraq qualified without playing a home match because of the Iran-Iraq war
• A total of 308 qualifying matches were played and 801 goals scored
• Bulgaria and Uruguay qualified for the second round without winning a group match
• Portugal's players went on strike, refusing to train between their first and the second games, and were knocked out after a loss to Morocco in the final group match
• Iraq defender Samir Shaker Mahmoud was banned for a year by FIFA after spitting at the referee during his team's 2-1 loss to Belgium
• Paraguay's Cayetano Re became the first coach to be sent off after repeatedly encroaching onto the pitch during the first-round game against Belgium
• Uruguay's Jose Batista was sent off after 56 seconds of the group match against Scotland

A return to Mexico after just 16 years looks a romantic choice at first glance. In fact, it came as a result of original hosts Colombia's inability to meet the economic demands of staging "the greatest show on earth." Mexico was itself a country in crisis after an earthquake had wreaked havoc and killed 25,000 people in 1985, but the country rallied to stage the tournament once again.

The tournament was to centre on one little man, Diego Armando Maradona, who was on a mission to bury the ghost of 1982 and a troubled spell at Barcelona. From the first game, he was the mainstay of an Argentina side that was otherwise functional and efficient but lacking in flair. Maradona provided magic in spades and matched it with a will to win. Scoring an excellent equaliser against off-colour holders Italy, he played a part in every Argentine goal in the first round.

The first round's darlings were the Danes, featuring the talents of Michael Laudup and Preben Elkjaer-Larsen. A 6-1 defeat of Uruguay saw odds on the Scandinavians winning the trophy tumble. The bookies soon breathed easier, though, as the Danes bizarrely capitulated 5-1 to Spain in the second round, with Emilio “The Vulture” Butragueno scoring four.

Other first-round form teams to fail at the second-round stage were Soviet Union, in a dramatic 4-3 loss to Belgium, and Morocco, who topped England's group before taking West Germany to the wire -- it was not until three minutes from the end that the Germans got their winner in Monterrey.

Italy, a pale shadow of the 1982 side, were dispatched with ease by the French. France, who had won the 1984 European Championship in some style, were again many romantics' choice for the tournament, though an over-reliance on Michel Platini's goal power from midfield would later prove problematic.

Brazil, themselves a shadow of their 1982 team but 4-0 conquerors of Poland, met the French in a titanic encounter in Guadalajara.

The game ended 1-1 and was absolutely jam-packed with incident. A challenge by Brazil goalkeeper Carlos on Bruno Bellone brought back painful memories of the Battiston-Schumacher incident four years earlier. At the other end, with his first kick of the game, substitute Zico missed a penalty to win the game in normal time, so it was penalties again for the French. This time, their nerve held despite Platini inexplicably blazing his spot-kick over the bar. Keeper Joel Bats was the hero as he saved first Socrates' casual effort and then Julio Cesar's strike.

Luis Fernandez stroked home the decider and the French rejoiced. The time seemed right for revenge over the Germans, who had ousted the hosts in their own shootout.

Argentina's challenge was meanwhile gathering pace. A functional win over Uruguay took them on to face England in the quarterfinals. Bobby Robson's side, for whom Gary Lineker had hit a rich vein of scoring form, had beaten South American opposition in the second round in Paraguay, but Argentina looked a far tougher proposition.

And so they would prove. Maradona's first goal, for which there is no dispute that he had handled, was followed by an amazing 75-yard dribble past the entire England defence and goalkeeper Peter Shilton. It remains surely the best individual goal ever seen at a World Cup. England, though, rallied after the introduction of John Barnes, who provided a goal for Lineker. The pair almost repeated the trick but Lineker failed to direct his header goalwards. Yet, despite the illegitimacy of Maradona's first goal, there was little doubt about the best team winning.

Just to show that his second goal hadn't been a fluke, Maradona twice repeated a similar trick in the semifinal against Belgium, surprise members of the last four after a shootout win over Spain. The Belgians just couldn't hold the irrepressible Argentina skipper as he led his team into their second final in three World Cups.

There they faced West Germany; France, broken by their toils in the quarterfinal, failed to get their revenge. Goalkeeper Joel Bats spoiled his heroic status by fumbling an Andreas Brehme free-kick early on and, in the last minute, when France were pushing hard for an equaliser, Rudi Voeller scored a breakaway goal.

The final saw Maradona being marked hard by Lothar Matthaeus and reduced to a peripheral role for much of the game, which was a poor spectacle until its later stages. Centre-back Jose Luis Brown had headed in Jorge Burruchaga's free kick and, when Real Madrid's Jorge Valdano stroked the ball past Harald Schumacher, all looked lost for the Germans.

But on came substitute strikers Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Dieter Hoeness, brother of 1974 hero Uli. Rummenigge, who had suffered another injury-hit finals, bundled home a Voeller flick before Voeller himself headed in Thomas Berthold's flick with eight minutes to play. Argentina looked shaken but surely this had to be Maradona's tournament.

The little man certainly believed so. Two minutes later, he ended a weaving run with a delicate through-ball to Burruchaga. The youngster did the rest and Argentina soon claimed their second World Cup. Maradona had realised his dream and, though the Argentines were far from a one-man team, no single player has ever had such an influence on the destiny of a World Cup.


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