The life of Diego Maradona was complex and controversial, with his World Cup legacy a difficult one. Maradona played in four World Cups, winning the 1986 event and reaching the final in 1990 with Argentina. The appearances at four World Cups of Diego Maradona are a microcosm of the career he enjoyed. The greatest player Argentina has ever produced is derided and adored in England, despite scoring one of the most controversial goals in World Cup history.
The English have a prickly relationship with the FIFA World Cup, with Argentina playing a role in most of the controversial moments. As England and Argentina made their way to the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup, the two teams were on a collision course that reflected the strained relationship the two nations enjoyed. The battle over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands had raged at the diplomatic level for decades before Argentina occupied the islands that were under British rule. The ten-week war was won by the British and left tensions between the two nations.
Maradona had begun his career in Argentina before making his way to Europe to take on the role vacated by Johan Cruyff at Barcelona. Although he showed flashes of brilliance, Maradona departed for Napoli after two seasons as his erratic off-the-field behavior became an issue.
At the start of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, Diego Maradona was at the peak of his powers and led Argentina to the quarter-finals. In contrast, England had struggled in the early stages of the tournament but seemed to have found their stride with a hat-trick from the striker, Gary Linekar, in their final group game.
The clash between Argentina and England took place in the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, with both teams concerned about the heat of the afternoon. The game started slowly with the infamous “Hand of God” goal coming early in the second half. A looping ball played by English midfielder Steve Hodge was contested by Maradona and the English goalkeeper, Peter Shilton. The goalkeeper stood eight inches taller than the Argentine midfielder, who beat him to the ball with his hand and punched it into the empty net.
Argentina went on to win the game, 2-1. Before the game, the English press had stoked tensions between the teams by referring to the 1982 conflict. The rivalry between Argentina and England dates back to the 1966 World Cup, eventually won by England. Argentinian captain, Antonio Rattin was sent off in a contentious quarter-final, with England winning an ill-tempered game. The England manager, Sir Alf Ramsay, described the Argentinians as “animals” after the game, leading to accusations of racism.
After winning the 1966 World Cup and arriving in Mexico for the 1970 edition as favorites, England failed to qualify in 1974 and 1978. By 1986, Sir Bobby Robson was the England manager and would lead the team to the semi-finals in 1990. The World Cup in Mexico had seen England improve with each game, with Argentina looking comfortable throughout.
The Argentinians saw the game in Mexico City as a chance to repay the English for more than the 1982 War. The “Hand of God” played into the feeling in England that Argentina was cheating their way through the World Cup. There is an ingrained sense of superiority the English feel over their former colonies, including Argentina.
Added to this sense of superiority is the idea that Maradona was a destructive force who had caused problems for European soccer clubs. During his time at Barcelona, Maradona had proven a self-destructive force, with his career reaching the heights never achieved by fellow mavericks, such as George Best. The “Hand of God” goal is the perfect image of the career of Diego Maradona. The goal is perfectly executed as an act of rebellion against a nation still resentful over the loss of its empire.