After the epic quarterfinal encounter against England at Azteca, Argentina and Diego Maradona met Belgium again in a World Cup match – Four years ago, at Barcelona, the Red Devils stunned the Argentineans in the opening match and Maradona was lost in the Belgian forest – he was marked strongly and hardly could move as his team suffered a defeat.
In Mexico, after a scratchy display in the group stages, Belgium had tamed the mighty Soviet Union and the team with a lot of flairs – Spain. They were the giant killers of the tournament and planned to stun Argentina as well, but to stop the Maradona of Mexico 86 – Belgium simply lacked the idea. They remained as mere spectators as one of the all-time best players in the history of football weaved his magic in the historic venue.
On June 22, Maradona scored what is universally accepted as the greatest goal of all time; his meandering, other-worldly second in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final against a dazed and confused England defence. It was, everyone agrees, a once-in-a-lifetime goal – but there also a huge group of people, who differs with that opinion and thinks, the display against Belgium, especially, the second goal was and….. is the best.
On June 25, in front of a packed crowd, Argentina started to dominate the game from the word go and whenever Maradona touched the ball it found his teammates upfront, but the desired goals were not coming and the first half ended 0-0.
Six minutes after the break, Jorge Burruchaga slipped a pass of stunning vision into the path of Maradona who clipped the ball over the advancing Jean-Marie Pfaff with the deftest of left-footed touches.
Twelve minutes later, according to These Football Times, “Defender José Luis Cuciuffo controls the ball on his chest and drives infield, eyes fixed on only one man. Maradona, back to goal, awaits the inevitable pass, his starting position a textbook definition of an enganche.”
“The 115,000 spectators inside the Estadio Azteca, and millions around the world, hold their breath.”
“In one movement, Maradona controls the ball with his right foot – the only time he would touch it with his significantly weaker foot – and already has his eyes raised toward goal. He then shifts the ball to his left foot, to which it will remain almost magnetically attracted for the rest of the move.”
“Three defenders – Stéphane Demol, George Grun and Patrick Vervoot – in unison, but clearly with little to no confidence, take tentative steps towards Maradona, like a herd of buffalos approaching a crocodile-infested lake. Maradona sensing blood accepts the challenge head-on, literally. The herd instantly begins to retreat.”
“Suddenly the wall of red shirts begins to crumble – or so it seemed. In reality, unlike the more accommodating and stretched English defence, Belgium’s more cohesive – though not necessarily more proactive – backline was simply undone by Maradona’s sublime elusiveness. Where there had looked no way through a split second earlier, a chink of light appears. Maradona, as he had done against England, was about to bend space and time to his own will.”
“In the Belgian defence, there is a paralysis of decision-making. Demol and Grun are dismissed with a tap of the ball to the right. In hindsight, one or the other should have committed a foul on Maradona. A free-kick and booking would have been a small price to pay compared to the ensuing mayhem.”
“Maradona was now veering to the right, towards the blonde-haired figure of Vervoort. The run is, still at this point, just about stoppable. But having drifted past Demol and Grun, and just short of Vervoort, Maradona creates a gap just ahead of him, to the left. Displaying incredible dexterity and low centre of gravity, he pivots towards that opening. The reaction of the defenders has a touch of the band playing on as the Titanic sinks. All three are almost at a jogging pace, uncomprehending the enormity of what is happening around them.”
“The next two touches, with the outside of his left foot, are the most devastating of the run. They account for Vervoort, the third victim of the move, who is now helpless to stop a Maradona suddenly gaining momentum away from him. As he steps into the penalty area, Maradona is at the centroid of a triangle of the three Belgian defenders. None are further than two metres away; none with any hope of stopping him.”
“Another touch and Maradona was now running towards his next victim, the panic-struck Eric Gerets. The Belgian captain, caught flatfooted by Maradona’s sudden change of direction and speed, is off balance and disoriented to such an extent that he has to execute a 270-degree turn to once again face his tormentor, now running parallel to, and away from, him.”
“For a split second, Gerets, a vastly experienced defender, had been twisted and turned into facing away from Maradona; a footballing equivalent of being on the dark side of the moon. Having regained his bearings, Gerets, quickly realising the gig was almost up, launches into a desperate last-ditch lunge, as Terry Butcher had done in the quarter-final. It is too late. Even giving away a penalty is no longer an option.”
“Maradona has given himself that crucial, decisive yard. Six seconds; six touches. One with the right foot, five with the left. Maradona has only the goalkeeper to beat. Fatefully for Belgium, and their World Cup dreams, he prepares to deliver the seventh – the mercy bullet.”
“The claustrophobic nature of his waltz through the Belgian defence and the limits of Newtonian physics meant not even Maradona was in a position to skip past the advancing Belgian goalkeeper. There was only one option. While trickery had done for Shilton, ferocity was Pfaff’s fate. Maradona pulled the trigger: it was beautiful, a magnificent desolation of the Belgian defence. As the ball hit the net, Argentina were through to the World Cup final.”
In his book on the history of Argentine football, Angels with Dirty Faces, Jonathan Wilson describes it as a goal of “dazzling brilliance.”
While in his autobiography, El Diego, he said, “For the second, the credit was Cucciuffo’s and Valdano’s, who made it for me. This time, when I scored the goals, I thought of La Tota, of how happy she must be feeling about it because each game brought more joy.”
The second goal along with the magical deft touch of the first goal has always been criminally underrated. Even Maradona never talked about it that much, perhaps, the goal scored against the British meant a lot to him rather than the piece of art in the semifinal.
But without a doubt, those two goals – the second one, to be specific, would always give the Goal of the Century a tough contest.