- Lineker’s favourite World Cup moment was surprising
- It earned the England striker a transfer to Barcelona
- He thought his father was mad for backing him to win the Golden Boot
Given that he won the Golden Boot in his first and came within a whisker of the Final in his second, one might expect Gary Lineker to have a tough time picking his FIFA World Cup™ highlight.
Yet the man who scored ten times in 12 World Cup appearances, setting a new English record, had no hesitation in selecting the moment that topped them all. That moment, as he told FIFA.com, was captured in the image above.
"The highlight of my two World Cups has to be against Poland in 1986, scoring the hat-trick," said Lineker. "Not because they were great goals – I don't think any of mine ever were! But I'd gone five or six games without scoring for England, so I was under a bit of pressure, especially as the World Cup was such a big tournament.
“The Poland game transformed things on a personal note. I went on to score a few more goals and win the Golden Boot, which earned me a move to Barcelona. So that was definitely the highlight in terms of a one-off match.”
Lineker would later laugh about his father, ahead of the tournament, revealing a bet on him – at odds of 14-1 - to finish top scorer. “I looked at him like he was a madman,” remembered the England icon.
The stake placed by Lineker Snr certainly looked to be of dubious merit, and in serious jeopardy, when his son failed to score in each of England’s opening two matches at Mexico 1986: a 1-0 loss to Portugal and a goalless draw with Morocco. The English media were far from impressed, and the Three Lions’ No10 – who had not scored for his country in eight months – was not exempt from criticism.
“I was as guilty as anyone for the poor results and could have been dropped for Poland,” the then Everton star reflected. “I was lucky to keep my place. I remember walking out on the pitch before kick-off and it was so hot I just headed straight back inside. Then you realise – I’ve got to play in this! I was feeling dizzy with the insane heat after the three goals, but I was so happy. We’d avoided humiliation. We were through to the knockouts.”
The goal captured in this image completed Lineker’s hat-trick. “I was happy with that one,” he told FourFourTwo. “I had a feeling I'd beat the keeper. I chested it, and took it on the half-volley, left-footed. It flew in.”
That hat-trick also opened the World Cup floodgates for Lineker, who would score twice more against Paraguay in England’s next match, then add a little-remembered consolation in a quarter-final dominated by Diego Maradona and perhaps the most famous brace of all time. Though his tournament was cut short as a result of Maradona's impudence and brilliance, Lineker had already done enough to secure the award for Mexico 1986’s top scorer - and a £2.8m move to Barcelona.
“It was a great experience overall, despite how we went out,” he later recalled. “Winning the Golden Boot was a year zero for me. Life changed. And my dad won some cash, so he was pleased too!”