Some goals have the ability to cut through the constant white noise of modern football.
Even with 24 hour sports channels and live football seven-days-a-week, there are still goals scored which have the power to reverberate throughout the world and will remain talked about forevermore.
It is, however, extremely rare for there to be two such goals in one match.
22nd June 1986. World Cup Quarter Final – Estadio Azteca, Mexico City.
England vs. Argentina.
Diego Armando Maradona was the superstar captain of an otherwise quite workmanlike Argentina side which was built to allow him the freedom to express himself. He carried the hopes of a nation on his shoulders in the 1986 World Cup – a burden he seemed to thrive on.
Maradona would go on to fulfil the dreams of his countrymen and lift the World Cup that year, but by the end of the match against England, he had scored two of the most talked about goals of all time.
Maradona’s second goal against England is perhaps the greatest goal ever scored and it is the goal that we are celebrating today. It is possible, though, to claim that his display of footballing genius may not have even existed without his first, highly contentious effort. A footballing yin-yang.
The nations of England and Argentina had history. It is said that football and politics should not mix, but for these two countries, they were inseparable:
British businessmen and landowners emigrated in droves to Argentina following her independence from Spain in the 19th century – the country formed part of an “informal British empire” at that time, leaving a lasting “colonial” legacy on the landscape and culture.
The 1966 World Cup saw England win a bad-tempered match between the two countries. The match included a baffling red card for Argentina captain Antonio Rattin, a Geoff Hurst goal that the defeated claim was offside and behaviour that prompted England manager Sir Alf Ramsey to call the Argentines “animals.”
Not least, though, memories of the 1982 Falklands conflict were still fresh in the minds of the Argentinian people. Giving insight into the mood of a nation, Maradona later wrote in his autobiography, “it was as if we had beaten a country, not just a football team. Although we had said before the game that football had nothing to do with the Malvinas war….this was revenge.”
The Goal of the Century
Diego Maradona had just scored one of the most controversial World Cup goals of all time. As the two rose to meet a cross, the diminutive Argentine ought to have been hopelessly overshadowed by England’s giant goalkeeper Peter Shilton. To make up for the height he was lacking, Maradona appeared to stretch an arm out to reach the ball first and propel it towards the net.
After scoring, Maradona admits he was “waiting for my team-mates to embrace me, and no one came. I told them, “Come hug me, or the referee isn’t going to allow it”.” The referee did allow it. El Diego had got away with it.
England, meanwhile, were reeling. Frustrated by the decision to allow the goal, emotions were running high. Knowing the danger of the world’s greatest player already, the Englishmen will have been wary not only of him, but now also of a referee that they had remonstrated hard with.
Any heavy-handedness aimed at Maradona would be scrutinised closely and could be interpreted as retaliation for the blow he had struck.
This arguably left Maradona, with his soaring self-confidence, free to weave patterns on the pitch.
He did so with devastating effect just a few minutes after the opening goal.
Receiving the ball in his own half, just beside the iconic “spider” shadow cast on the Estadio Azteca pitch, Maradona had his back facing the direction of the goal. With a little tap of the ball he took a step and pirouetted to sneak between Peter Reid and Peter Beardsley, before an incredible burst of speed took him past Terry Butcher and into the penalty area.
Maradona left Reid, Beardsley, Butcher, Steve Hodge and Terry Fenwick in his wake. It could have been very different had he not have been forced to continue alone. Still spectacular – but not quite as spectacular.
Maradona explained how in his autobiography, “ 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. 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…and Shilton bought the dummy, he bought it. 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.”
England midfielder Peter Reid has been asked many times why he didn’t stop Maradona and scythe him down when he received the ball? After all, each opponent in the 1986 World Cup to that point had employed the tactic to some degree – England hesitated, though, and stood off him ever so slightly.
Reid has since written in the Mail Online that “His ability to turn was so good, I couldn’t get near him.”
He did admit, though, that he thought others might have seen fit to do so. “The one that would have flattened him was Terry Fenwick, but he’d been booked already and, by the time he’d thought about it, Maradona had gone past him, sold Shilts a dummy and switched feet to put the ball in the net.”
The goal was a supreme example of ball control whilst dribbling with pace and power. The setting must also not be forgotten. The history between the nations. And a World Cup quarter-final, no less.
Maradona’s teammate Jorge Valdano commented in the guardian that “That celebration that put intelligence, the body and the ball in tune was an act of genius – but also in the most profound way, in footballing terms, of being Argentinian.” He also spoke of the two sides of being Argentine on display in the goals: deceit and cunning, and artistry and flair.
Could one exist without the other?
Maradona had scored a goal with his hand that would forever hurt the English. Moments later, however, he delivered the most beautiful, graceful companion piece as the other side of the coin.
It was voted the best goal of the century in a FIFA poll in 2002, yet Maradona cheekily stated in his autobiography that he sometimes thinks he preferred the one scored with his hand.
“It was a bit like stealing the wallet of the English.”
With that second goal, though, he stole the football world’s hearts.