“What hand of God? It was the hand of Diego, and it was like pickpocketing the English too.”
It’s 28 years ago today since one of the most iconic, or infamous – depending on your point of view – goals in the entire footballing pantheon.
The 1986 World Cup quarter-final between England and Argentina at Mexico’s Azteca Stadium was watched by 114,580 spectators and a global TV audience of millions. The game was won by one of the most brilliant individual goals in international football history, but it’s remembered more for the opening goal, scored by the same man.
Six minutes after half-time, England’s Steve Hodge miscued a clearance, sending the ball looping into England’s penalty area. Diego Maradona and England ‘keeper Peter Shilton raced for the ball. Both jumped, and Maradona got the touch, sending the ball into the net.
The officials believed he’d headed it, but he had in fact punched it with his left hand…
England’s players were incensed, but just four minutes later were rendered helpless as the Argentine maestro weaved his way through almost the entire team to score a goal voted ‘Goal of the Century’ in a 2002 FIFA poll.
The controversy over the game has never died down, particularly in England. Maradona’s admission that he did handle the ball – that’s his quote at the start of this article – has fuelled the indignation. But would England have won the game if the hand of Diego had not intervened?
Of course, that question can never be answered conclusively. But Argentina had created more chances in the first half, and had kept England quiet. That second goal was simply unstoppable, and it wasn’t until the 80th minute that England managed to break through with a Gary Lineker goal.
The arguments over the game have been arguments over much more than football – taking in the long rivalry between England and Argentina and embracing some uncomfortable national stereotyping. At the time, the Falklands War of 1982 was fresh in the memory, fuelling the controversy even more.
But while Maradona will always, it seems, be viewed with suspicion from an English vantage point because of his perceived cunning, it’s that very cunning that means he’s viewed as even more of a hero in Argentina. Outsmarting the English and their perceived sense of superiority went down very well indeed.
Twenty eight years on, is it time to remember this as the game in which one of the greatest goals in international football history was scored, rather than as the Hand of God game? After all, England’s own greatest World Cup moment hinged entirely on a controversial decision – that time at the hand of a Russian linesman.
Perhaps it’s time for a new documentary look at the incident, hosted by an impartial football figure. I’m suggesting Thierry Henry.