My favourite goal: Diego Maradona v England - the perfect 10 with the perfect strike

The wounds of the Falklands War were still festering but the little master lifted Argentina’s spirits with a goal that will never be forgotten

Diego Maradona scores after a 60-yard sprint in which he evaded the despairing lunges of a host of England players. Picture: Ted Blackbrow/Daily Mail/Shutterstock
Diego Maradona scores after a 60-yard sprint in which he evaded the despairing lunges of a host of England players. Picture: Ted Blackbrow/Daily Mail/Shutterstock

A favourite goal is not always the most beautiful, most accomplished, the most uplifting or the one with the most meaning.

Among the most beautiful and accomplished stands Marco van Basten’s against Soviet Union in the Euro 88 final and Zinedine Zidane’s moment of aplomb in the Champions League final for Real Madrid against Bayer Leverkusen.

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Both volleys, the first from an improbable angle and the other a sensational show of technique on the hallowed turf of Hampden.

The most uplifting include Mo Johnston’s double against France that had the nation dancing in the rain and Scotland off to Italia 90, or John Collins’ ice-cool penalty that saw the Galashiels pub where I was watching the France 98 opener against Brazil erupt in pride at their local boy done good.

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Then there is Spartans’ last-gasp effort in the dying minutes of a Scottish Cup-tie against Alloa in 2003 – one of many on a very special cup run – that still makes me smile.

But none of them can claim to be my favourite goal. No, if there was one goal I would watch on a never-ending loop, it would feature a squat little Argentine wizard, feinting, dribbling and skipping past and beyond one flailing, desperate lunge after another, as he moves from one half, all the way up the pitch before slotting into the net.

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For some, it is impossible to view the goal without the backdrop of national hostilities. Four years earlier a 10-week war between the United Kingdom and Argentina had claimed the lives of 649 Argentines, 255 Brits and three Falkland Islanders. A conflict that had started with Argentina claiming sovereignty over and invading the UK-governed territory, ended with surrender by the South American forces.

The wounds festered so when, at the 1986 World Cup, fate set up a quarter-final meeting between a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina side and, arguably, one of England’s best-ever squads, there was more than a semi-final place at stake.

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If the hostile head to head required any more spice, the diminutive and mercurial Argentina captain provided it – in bucket loads – just after the interval, with his Hand of God ‘goal’. Now everyone on the pitch had one grievance or another and looking back on it now, it seems incredible that, in such circumstances, the vitriol did not boil over more spectacularly.

But only hindsight offers me that context for the goal that was to follow. At the time, as a kid sat cross-legged on the floor, in front of the TV, voraciously soaking up every minute of football beamed from Mexico, things were simpler; more innocent.

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Watching as Maradona took possession in his own half four minutes after the opening goal, his back to goal. I remember eyes widening as he dropped a shoulder and, on the turn, left the men on each shoulder for dead.

In the spotlight of the bright Mexican sun, one of the world’s greatest-ever players took centre stage as he began his 60-yard sprint, out to the flank, where he skipped away from more England players, and on towards Peter Shilton’s goal. Top operators, tough tacklers and fearsome competitors were left looking silly as he evaded guys like Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Fenwick and Terry Butcher, who came back for another dig at him but could do nothing to halt the artistic genius and dogged determination of the No 10. As he cut into the box, he did not flinch as the final desperate, sliding tackle came in. He simply slotted the ball home, as jaws fell open around the globe.

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I didn’t understand the political ramifications and I didn’t understand fully why those goals – which paved the way to Maradona eventually lifting the trophy two games later – elevated the little star to a 
deity in the minds of his countrymen.

I didn’t care that it was Argentina against England. It could have been Iran, Russia, Sweden for all I cared. I just knew that I had been enthralled by a goal that was as beautiful, accomplished and as memorable as any I would ever see.

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