Eleven seconds. That is all it took for Diego Maradona to conjure up the most stunning piece of brilliance of his entire career, a goal so flawless in its execution and so far beyond the reach of ordinary mortals that it almost defies belief.
Those 11 seconds took place 25 years ago today, during Argentina’s quarter-final against England at the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™, when Maradona left an indelible mark on the competition by scoring what was voted the FIFA World Cup Goal of the Century. That goal is, of course, the slaloming run and ice-cool finish that gave La Albiceleste a two-goal lead en route to a 2-1 victory in that oft-remembered match.
“Violent emotions are something you read about on the crime pages in newspapers, but after what happened to me when that goal went in I think I know all about violent emotions.”
The words are those of the Uruguayan journalist and commentator Victor Hugo Morales, a resident of Argentina for 30 years now, who tearfully and vividly described that goal for millions of radio listeners:
“Maradona on the ball now. Two closing him down. Maradona rolls his foot over the ball and breaks away down the right, the genius of world football. He goes past a third, looks for Burruchaga. Maradona forever! Genius! Genius! Genius! He’s still going… Gooooal! Sorry, I want to cry! Good God! Long live football! What a goal! A memorable run from Maradona. The greatest solo goal of all time. Cosmic Kite, which planet did you come from?”
Often recited, that memorable piece of commentary is a faithful account of those 11 seconds of footballing perfection. Maradona collected the ball in his own half, span away from two opponents and set off on an unforgettable run, his chest puffed out defiantly, his tongue sticking out, magic flowing from his left foot.
It was a sequence of events that even the man himself has found hard to credit, as he wrote in his autobiography: “Whenever I watch it again I can hardly believe I pulled it off. It was incredible. I wanted to blow up photos of it and put a montage above my bed along with photos of Dalma – my only daughter at the time – and the words: ‘The best things in my life’. That’s all.”
The roots of Maradona’s masterpiece can be traced all the way back to a friendly between England and Argentina on 13 May 1980 at Wembley, when he produced a remarkably similar run from outside the penalty box. The only difference was the outcome, with the No10 choosing to shoot past the goalkeeper instead of taking the ball round him. His cross-shot rolled just wide of the far post that day, earning him the displeasure of one of his siblings.
“My brother Turco criticised me after the game and said I should have taken the ball round the keeper,” recalled Maradona. “I gave him a piece of my mind, I can tell you. As if it were that easy. Luckily, God showed me the way in Mexico and I remembered what I needed to do.”
El Pelusa’s Mexican work of art came only minutes after his first goal of the afternoon, the legendary but eternally controversial 'Hand of God', a sleight of hand that triggered the indignation of the English' - indignation that promptly gave way to admiration when his second goal arrived.
“It was a fantastic goal,” said the late Sir Bobby Robson, England’s coach that afternoon at the Estadio Azteca. “You see goals like that in a kid’s game in the park, but Maradona went and did it in a World Cup quarter-final.” England striker Gary Lineker, the leading goalscorer at the competition, was equally impressed: “For the first time in my career I felt like applauding the opposition scoring a goal.”
Yet, while the English acknowledged Maradona’s brilliance, there was one Argentinian who was displeased with the player after his wonder strike: team-mate Jorge Valdano. “I’d followed his run from the other side of the pitch and when we got to the dressing room Diego apologised for not passing the ball to me,” said the former Real Madrid man. “I stood there and threw some insults at him because I thought he was disrespecting me as a footballer. Can you believe that he did all that and still had time to see me? It was impossible. Only a player of his class could do that.”