The most important match in Diego Maradona’s football career was played on June 22, 1986, under a scorching sun in the Mexican midday four years and eight days after the Argentine confrontation with the English in the war for the Falkland Islands.
Maradona rose on that day to a pedestal reserved for a handful of popular Argentine idols and never came down again.
The golden boy was close to turning 26 years old, he had been a professional for almost ten years and still had eleven more seasons of dribbling and controversy left. That day the line was drawn between before and after in his career.
When 51 minutes of a quarterfinal match were played in that World Cup in Mexico, Maradona found no better way to overcome the giant English goalkeeper Peter Shilton in a jump than to stretch his left arm to punch the ball.
Goal. Goal? Yes, goal. Because the Tunisian referee Ali Bennaceur pointed to the center of the field and stood firm in his decision despite the protests of the players led by Bobby Robson, and despite being obviously somewhat dazed and disoriented.
There was surprise, confusion. Delirium in a section of the stadium filled with 114,000 people and indignation in others. That illicit goal was sealed as an incomparable sample of the collection of transgressions of a sports personality who has unleashed idolatry and rejection alike.
“When I think of England, I can’t get the kids who died in the Falklands war out of my head,” Diego had said days before that meeting. Hours after the game, when the matter made the English and the defenders of “fair play” angry red, Maradona said that he had scored the goal “with the hand of God.”
But four minutes after that unusual event, Diego showed the outraged world his masterpiece. The most beautiful goal in the history of the World Cup.
The play lasted 10 seconds, in which Maradona traveled 60 meters with the ball dominated, eluded six English players and touched it gently before the departure of Shilton. There have been few who assured that that goal whitewashed the previous one.
“I suffered the most beautiful goal that you can get. I even suffered it as a lover of the goal that I am, because it must be the best in the history of the World Cups,” said the English striker Gary Lineker the next day.
“I made all the play to pass the ball to you, but they locked me up and I had no alternative but to continue,” Maradona commented to Jorge Valdano in the locker room.
“I can’t believe it,” he managed to say. “He did everything he did and he could also see that I was going to the left of the attack. I can’t believe it,” Valdano himself was outraged in his joy.
Before that unforgettable match, he had shone in his debut against South Korea, in which he suffered violence from rivals like in no other game in the World Cup and in the clash against Italy, in which he scored his first goal.
Maradona decorated his task in that World Cup with two goals against Belgium in the semifinals – for many that performance was even better than England’s, but without the most hated rival – and with another genius in the final against Germany.
On that occasion, the symbolic player of Argentine soccer masterfully measured the space and the situation to put an anthological pass to Jorge Burruchaga, also at Azteca, when the game was even 2-2 and there was very little left for the final whistle of the Brazilian referee Romualdo Arpi Filho.
“Burru” touched the ball with class, the goalkeeper Schumacher was snubbed, the result was enshrined with a 3-2 for the Albiceleste team and minutes later Maradona lifted the second World Cup achieved by the Argentines in history.
Today the whole country remembers Diego kissing that glass. And he longs for it.