During the 1980s, Diego Maradona was one of the world’s largest sports superstars. Fans just didn’t get that much legend. Everywhere he went, Maradona mesmerized the audience with skill on the field. During the 1986 World Cup, Maradona was the most talked-about player in the tournament. He had not had the attention of the whole world since the peak of Brazilian legend Pelé, not a football player. He was revered, loved and hated in one breath. Maradona created such feelings among the people that no other player could succeed.
Estadio Azteca was the location of his most famous moments on the field. Two performances of trickery that still talk about 34 years later. It was not impossible that the spectacular maneuver Maradona performed was not a miracle.
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That was a contradiction introduced by the legendary Argentine player Maradona, who died at the age of 60 on Wednesday. He can be magical in positive and negative ways.
His most famous – and infamous – game came in a World Cup quarterfinal in 1986, against England at the then majestic stadium in Mexico City. The greed to be there was as strong for members of the media as for 100,000 or so fans. Since Pelé there was no footballer on such a magnificent stage in his major.
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Adding to the electric atmosphere was the legacy of Argentine fans in their blue and white striped jerseys, waving their flags and paying homage to “El Gran Diego”. There were even some slogans of “El Dios Diego”. If only they really knew.
At its highest level, football is a game of intrigue, with 11 players weaving a tapestry on each side. The intelligent fan does not focus on the ball the way hockey followers would view the puck. Instead, you focus on the movement of the players as a group, pattern and probe, and ultimately on penetrating attacks.
But not when Maradona was in his prime. You saw number 10 for Argentina. always.
Closing his eyes, Maradona was ready to go to the concession stand in the middle of the match.
And on that June day, Maradona gave what would be the foundation of his legacy.
After the first half ended, Maradona hit a powerful header in the 51st minute. Or did he? The wrong ball was sent high and towards the net by an England defender from where keeper Peter Shilton – one of the best – sprinted to clean it up. Mandakini Maradona leaps him and a swivel of Noggin. Or, more accurately, as the video replays today indicate, a punch with the left hand off the side of his head.
aim !!!!!!!!! (The only way to describe such a score, of course).
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From the press area, all seemed fair. For English players and the manager, it was a rule – a rigid break of rules. For Argentina, this was Diego doing his thing.
Never mind, as the goal stood for a 1-0 lead. In fact, most of us covered the game, which was wrong.
Had the match ended with that score, Maradona would have had a reputation everywhere, but his countrymen were forever stained. But then something spectacular came, yet refined, so wild yet controlled, that even the rude people in the press box felt like cheering.
And some did.
Maradona originally started through half of the England team and with his share of midfield, weaving his slalom run into the net, finishing with a short hit.
As the English Tele’s announcer said, “there was no doubt about that.” And there is no doubt that it will be remembered at the same level globally, when Americans will miss Bobby Thomson’s home run or impeccable reception.
Looking from on high – no, not “God’s hands” on high – every reporter knew that there was really no way to describe this goal. No way to do it justice with words.
Surely we will all try, as it may be. Any of us, naturally, can match skill and creativity – the sheer grandeur by Maradona that afternoon.
Pelé famously and appropriately dubbed football “O Jogo Bonito ‘” (The Beautiful Game). This phrase suited Brazil’s grace and grace, and the way he played. Pelé was a cheetah and a gazelle. If Pelé’s Football was a musical genre, so try jazz.
Maradona was an ox, a charge-forward locomotive. His music contained heavy metal.
Yet that day under a brilliant sky in Mexico City, Maradona showed us that he possessed some qualities. And some witchcraft too.
(With AP input)
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