Maradona leads Argentina

The 1986 World Cup saw the rise of another football immortal. Until that year, Diego Armando Maradona was only an excellent Argentine midfielder, with rare skill, with a track record of indiscipline and a bit of a controversial figure. However, after that month of June in Mexico, Dieguito became a myth. For everyone, a genius with his left leg; for many, comparable even to Pelé; for the Argentinians, a demigod.  

As Colombia decided not to host the tournament, due to financial problems, Mexico was left with the honour of being the first country to host a FIFA World Cup for the second time. An earthquake in September 1985 almost threatened to stop the party, but the tragedy made the Mexican people unite and make the most of the World Cup to rebuild their country.

The 1986 World Cup had a new format, with the second round of groups giving way to a series of knockout matches, which started with the round of sixteen. Therefore, the four best third places in the group stage also qualified.

Argentina was not the hot favourites. For example, France already had Michel Platini, who had already risen to world fame. England had their best team in a long time, with Gary Lineker, who would finish as the tournament's top scored with 6 goals. Traumatised by their defeat in 1982, Brazil still had Zico, Sócrates, Junior and Falcão, Telê Santana was still the manager and they wanted to correct what they felt to be an injustice four years earlier. Italy was the defending champion and West Germany, coached by Beckenbauer had Lothar Matthäus, who was the successor of their legendary sweeper.

There was also room for sensations, such as Michael Laudrup’s Denmark. The Danish won three matches in the group stage, playing offensive football, they thrashed two time winners Uruguay 6-1. A rather good start, as together with Canada and Iraq, this was their first World Cup.

The Soviet Union, Emilio Butragueño’s Spain and Belgium also showed a lot of force, but ended up eliminated along the way, as well as the surprising Morocco, first African country to ever get through the first stage of the World Cup, after winning their group thanks to a 3-1 win over Portugal. However, Morocco would end up being eliminated in the next match against West Germany.

Nevertheless, no-one was a match for the Argentine number 10. Maradona scored five goals and gave another five assists in Argentina's 14. In addition, he scored what is considered the best goal in World Cup history and the most famous irregular goal of all times.

Argentina finished the group stage with two victories over Bulgaria and South Korea and a draw against Italy. In the round of 16, they beat their neighbour Uruguay 1-0. Maradona took it up a notch in the quarter-final. Their opponent was England. It was the first time that both countries would face each other since the Falklands War. The Argentines took the lead with an irregular goal by Dieguito. He used his hand to lob goalkeeper Peter Shilton. The referee allowed the goal and then, Maradona would dub the goal as the ‘Hand of God’. 

However, the second goal scored by Argentina’s number 10 against the English was a scorcher. Maradona got the ball in his own half, with his back to the opponent’s half. He turned, left the first marker behind and sprinted towards goal, dribbling past five English players, including keeper Peter Shilton, before tapping the ball into the back of the net. Lineker managed to pull one back, but Argentina was through to the semi-final and the French newspaper L'Équipe published a sentence that perhaps best describes Maradona:  ‘Half angel, half demon’.

Maradona got another two memorable goals in Argentina’s victory over Belgium in the semi-final, giving their goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, who had disdained him before the match, something to think about. In the final, there were the Germans again, who like in 1982, had eliminated Platini’s France in the semi-final.

In the final, German manager Franz Beckenbauer gave Lothar Matthäus the responsibility of marking Maradona. Argentine defender José Luis Brown, who played quite a bit of the match with an injured hand, opened the score.  Jorge Valdano increased their lead. However, the Germans would once more show their incredible recovery capability and draw the match with goals from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Rudi Völler. But not even Matthäus managed to stop Maradona. In the 83rd minute, Dieguito released Jorge Burruchaga, who scored Argentina’s third and guaranteed their second title.

Problems from beginning to end

After mesmerising the planet in 1982, but coming home early from Sprain, Brazil hoped that this time things would pan out differently, particularly because it still had players like Zico and Sócrates. However, they faced many problems during the preparation stage. Manager Telê Santana, who took over a little before the World Cup, replacing Evaristo de Macedo, cut forward Renato Gaúcho and as a result, left-back Leandro decided not to go to the tournament, in defence of his friend.  Injured, Zico had to work very hard to be match fit. To make matters worse, Falcão also had injury problems.

The result of this was narrow victories over Spain and Algeria in the group stage. In the third game, against Northern Ireland, Telê replaced injured Édson with fall-back Josimar.  Brazil improved and beat the Irish 3-0, with a goal from Josimar and two from Careca. In the round of 16, Poland posed no threat. Josimar scored again, as did Careca and Brazil managed an easy 4-0 win.

However, their joy was short lived. In the quarter-final, they would play Michel Platini’s France, European champions. Despite this, Brazil took the lead with Careca. Then Platini equalised in the first half. In the second half, Zico had the opportunity of sealing the Brazilian win. The Flamengo midfielder got up to take a penalty suffered by Branco, however, he did not hit the ball well and French goalkeeper Joël Bats defended. The match went into extra-time, but remained tied. A penalty shootout was to decide the outcome. This time, Zico converted his effort. However, Sócrates and Júlio César missed their penalties and watched as the talented 1980s generation bid a melancholic farewell to the World Cup.