It is now 3 months since Diego Maradona passed away. And yet, the internet is still stuffed with highlight reels of the great man’s impressive skills. However, Maradona was not just a footballing genius, but a man with steely determination who would do anything to help his teams to victory. And occasionally, he even went as far as breaking the rules. Here are the 5 most controversial moments from Maradona’s footballing career.
Red card v Brazil, July 1982
Maradona arrived at the Spanish World Cup as a precocious 21-year old, fresh from a world record transfer fee from Boca Juniors to Barcelona. And it was in the Catalan city that it all came crashing down for him, as his Argentina team were outclassed and outgunned by the great Brazilian team of Zico, Socrates, and Junior. The Albiceleste were 3-0 down with just 5 minutes left when Brazilian defender Batista committed a foul which went unnoticed by the referee. The 5’ 5’’ Maradona retaliated by kicking the 5’ 9’’ Batista in the waist, leaping skywards to do so. The referee sure saw that move, and the little Argentine received a red card, departing to boos by the Catalan crowd. The remaining 2 years in the city would prove just as unhappy.
Handball v England, June 1986
When English people think of Maradona, this is the moment they think of first. Playing a World Cup quarter-final at midday in Mexico City’s Azteca stadium, Argentina and England were clearly suffering from the heat and altitude. It seems the Tunisian referee was similarly affected, as he failed to notice the diminutive Maradona leaping above 6-foot England goalie Peter Shilton to fist home a high ball, giving Argentina the lead. The England team was stunned, and 4 minutes later Maradona picked up a loose ball in the center circle, run the length of the field, and scored what many consider to be the greatest goal of the 20th Century. At the press conference afterward, he described the goal as being the result of the Hand of God, infuriating the English further. Argentina went on to win the World Cup that year, and it would not be the last time that Maradona influenced important matches using his hands.
Handball v Stuttgart, May 1989
Most football fans know all about the Hand of God incident, but few remember the crucial role that Maradona’s wrist played in Napoli’s 1989 UEFA Cup win against Stuttgart. In the first leg, the Germans had taken a first-half lead, but a Napoli cross midway through the second period was nodded on to the far post, where Maradona was waiting. Controlling the ball with his shoulder and then lower arm, Maradona fired in a cross-shot which struck an unlucky Stuttgart defender’s hand from a range of just 2 feet away. Amazingly, the referee awarded a penalty against the Germans, which Maradona coolly converted from the spot. Napoli went on to win the match 2-1, and drew the away leg 3-3, securing their first European trophy.
Handball v Soviet Union, June 1990
At the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Maradona showed that he didn’t just score goals with his hand but stop them at the other end too. Early on in the must-win match against the Soviet Union, a corner came in, was sent on its way to goal by Oleg Kuznetsov, and was cleared off the line by the Argentine captain’s arm. Again, the referee did not see it. The scores stayed level, Argentina went on to win 2-0 and qualified for the next round. An incredible three high-profile handballs in 4 years from Maradona – all of which went unnoticed by the referee, and all of which had a material effect on each game’s outcomes. These days, VAR would put a stop to all that nonsense. Nevertheless, If Maradona were still playing today, modern bookmakers might have ton include the number of handballs in their in-play betting odds.
Goal reaction v Greece, June 1994
Between the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, Maradona’s career embarked on a lower trajectory, featuring failed drug tests, accusations of tax evasion by the Italian authorities, and shooting journalists in his native Argentina. And yet, he turned up for USA ’94 on top form and brimming with energy, starring in a 4-0 win over Greece in Massachusetts. The third goal was one of the great team goals in World Cup history, involving a whirlwind of one-touches on the edge of the Greek box between Redondo and Batistuta, finished off by a pile-driver from Maradona. The great man ran to the cameras, eyes bulging, voice screaming. It almost looked as if he was on some kind of illicit stimulant. As it turned out, he was, and FIFA sent him home in disgrace. The 1994 Argentina squad was far better than that of 1990 – and arguably even more balanced than the successful 1986 version. But they slipped to defeat to Romania in the Second Round, and Maradona’s international career was over.