Diego Maradona gave England nightmares – but he was an absolute dream of a footballer
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Diego Maradona was a genius with the gift of the jab, and his 'Hand of God' goal will always rankle with the England players he swindled.
But in the pantheon of football greatness, he was fist among equals.
If his first goal in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final was counterfeit, the second was as breathtaking as it was authentic.
Now, as former England captain Gary Lineker put it so deftly, “after a blessed but troubled life, hopefully he will find some comfort in the hands of God.”
News of Maradona's death in Buenos Aires broke on the 50th anniversary of Peter Shilton – the England goalkeeper he hoodwinked with that devious left jab in Mexico City's Azteca stadium 34 years ago – winning the first of his record 125 England caps.
Shilton never forgave the Argentine deity's chicanery in 1986, although he grudgingly recognised the celestial talent which took Maradona on a giddy slalom past five opponents, and left the Three Lions keeper on his backside, before potting what proved to be the winner.
Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal against England at the 1986 World Cup
(Image: Bob Thomas Sports Photography vi)
Gary Lineker forced to defend himself as Diego Maradona tribute divides opinion
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“By some distance the best player of my generation, and arguably the greatest of all time,” tweeted Lineker, whose header gave Bobby Robson's side hope after Maradona's goals, and a Tunisian referee's negligence, had left England 2-0 down.
In Argentina, victory was celebrated as retribution for the Falklands war four years earlier. The Hand of God, by contrast, has haunted England ever since.
Former Everton warhorse Peter Reid – one of the hapless England players left in a magician's wake – revealed Maradona's infamous goal left him with a legacy of nightmares.
Reid said: “I still wake up at night in a cold sweat thinking about it. Being an Englishman, we've got some regrets about the first goal, but the second was a man at the height of his ability. Quite simply, he is one of the best footballers to walk the planet.
“They were dancing in the tunnel afterwards – it really went off and I think Terry Butcher steamed into them. It was quite lively, to be honest.”
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In his autobiography Cheer Up Peter Reid, the ex-England midfielder revealed: “Even now, more than three decades on, I'm still incredibly disappointed that I couldn't lay a glove on him.
“I could have been the player who stopped the world's best footballer, the one who prevented England from being eliminated from a World Cup we could have gone on to win.
“In my dreams, I'm still running but there's a wind against me. No matter how hard I try, I can't get there.
“A psychiatrist would have a field day with that one, but I don't need anyone to tell me why I have these visions while I'm asleep.”
Diego Armando Maradona was special because he stole every show.
You always remember your first trip to Wembley – and to this teenager who never grew up, Maradona made it unforgettable.
It was a balmy spring evening in May 1980, with England counting down to the European Championship finals, when Argentina came calling.
Ron Greenwood's side won 3-1, with Liverpool's David Johnson scoring twice and Kevin Keegan's first-time shot from the edge of the box settling all arguments.
But the moment which took our breath away – and which proved a prescient foretaste of his sensational goal against England at the World Cup six years later – was Maradona's mesmerising, mazy run when the game was still goalless.
From a tighter turning circle than a sumo wrestler in a phone box, his twinkling footwork and dipping shoulder left Phil Thompson, Kenny Sansom and Dave Watson for dead before he rolled his shot beyond the advancing Ray Clemence.
Agonisingly, for Argentina, it rolled an inch the wrong side of the post.
But it is hard to imagine 100,000 people at Wembley making less noise, for a few seconds of collective hush, as Maradona left us open-mouthed, speechless, suspended in wonder at his audacity.
Where Thompson, Sansom and Watson couldn't catch Maradona then, it was Reid, Terry Fenwick and Terry Butcher's turn in the Aztec stadium where his 'Hand of God' was the sacrilege before the sorcery.
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