The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A little Maradona, a little God
- The day the Argentine cheated, dazzled & gave a great line

Frankfurt, June 22 (Reuters): On this day 20 years ago, Diego Maradona made three indelible marks on the World Cup, scoring its most infamous and then its most brilliant goal before providing its most memorable quote.

Maradona’s two goals in the space of four minutes for Argentina against England in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and his “Hand of God” quote are the stuff of legend.

Yet few people know the true story of that famous quote. I was doubly lucky to be one of them ' fortunate to be there reporting the game as part of the Reuters team and lucky to get to the stadium at all.

That day 20 years ago started for me with a nasty slip in the hotel bathroom that could have deprived me of seeing the “Hand of God” goal, let alone reporting on it.

After breaking my fall with my right elbow, which still carries the scar, I improvised a bandage and headed for the Azteca stadium in Mexico City.

Did we Argentines believe then that England would be just another hurdle easily overcome on the way to what was to be our second World Cup title' It is easy to think that now, but Maradona had a trick up his sleeve just in case.

England had struggled in the group stage in Monterrey and nearly failed to make it into the knockout stage. Argentina had found neighbours and arch-rivals Uruguay a hard nut to crack in their second round.

The quarter-final was preceded by jingoistic reports on both sides of the Atlantic implying that the Falklands/ Malvinas war would be fought again on the Azteca pitch that afternoon.

At that stage in the history of football confrontations between the two countries, once tight economic allies, there had been only one controversial match.

That was the 1966 World Cup quarter-final at Wembley, my first “partido caliente con los ingleses” (hot match with the English), albeit as a mere fan, not a journalist.

Argentina’s captain Antonio Rattin was sent off, England manager Alf Ramsey called the South Americans animals and the tone was set for all future football battles.

Beating the nation that taught them the game has always been an Argentine obsession.

In 1986, a packed Azteca, including pockets of hard core fans from both sides, was watching an evenly balanced match when Maradona leapt to a poor, high clearance and beat England keeper Peter Shilton to the ball, surreptitiously punching it into the net with his fist.

My colleagues from Reuters were shocked when Maradona, pretending to have headed the opening goal, ran off celebrating. The referee, pointing to the centre spot, was surrounded by England players demanding a hand ball decision.

The press tribune high up in the third tier of the giant stadium and a long way from the goal where Maradona scored immediately buzzed, hardly believing the referee had missed the trick.

The Argentina captain described the goal afterwards to reporters as “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios” (a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God), coining one of the most famous quotes in sport.

As there was no official translation of it, the “Hand of God” quote was missed by non-Spanish reporters, some of whom later questioned if Maradona had really said it.

England manager Bobby Robson, visibly upset in the post-match conference, tried to temper his disillusion in defeat with his admiration for Maradona’s second, brilliant and ultimately decisive second goal in a 2-1 Argentina win.

Maradona’s explanation has gone through endless mutations over the years and is often misquoted. His original quote had him audaciously sharing the goal with the source of his God-given talent.

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