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Football’s Biggest Controversies: Diego Maradona’s Hand Of God

In this part of 'Football's Biggest Controversies', we look at Diego Maradona's hand of god goal. The build-up, the game and the aftermath.
Maradona's Hand Of God

In a new series from Last Word on Football, we take a look back at some of footballs biggest controversies. Throughout the long history of football, the game has seen many great players, teams and games. However, the game has also seen its fair amount of controversies. Ill-tempered games, bizarre goals, strange decisions amongst many others have all hit the headlines down the years. In part two we look back at the infamous game at the 1986 World Cup Finals. Argentina versus England in the quarterfinals gave us one of the best goals ever seen but also one of if not the biggest controversy in football history. Diego Maradona’s hand of god goal.

We look back on the build-up to the game following the Falklands War, the game itself and the aftermath. 

For part one check out the following link: The Battle of Bramall Lane 

Football’s Biggest Controversies: Diego Maradona’s Hand of God Goal

The Build-Up: Intense Game Expected Following the Falklands War

Despite the two countries being thousands of miles apart, England and Argentina have had an intense football rivalry. Dating back to the 19th century but intensifying from their fierce meeting in the 1966 World Cup Finals when following a Three Lions victory in a bad-tempered game, manager Alf Ramsey called the Argentines “Animals”. This was viewed as racist by the Argentines.

The 1982 Falklands war between the two countries added much fuel to the flames. The 10-week war over the British dependent territories in the Atlantic, the Falklands and South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands saw almost 1000 military personnel die.

The build-up to the game was centred around the recent war and the history of the two countries on and off the pitch. Tensions were high amongst rival fans and there was little surprise when there was crowd trouble amongst the 114,800 in attendance in the searing heat at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca.

The Goal That Should Have Been Disallowed: “Maradona’s Hand of God Goal”

Argentina unsurprisingly adapted to the conditions much better than England and had the better of the possession and chances during the first half of the game. However, despite several good chances, the scores remained 0-0 at halftime. The second half of the game is what everyone to this day talks about. The controversial and the great happened inside just four minutes.

On 51 minutes a loose backpass by England midfielder Steve Hodge looped back towards his goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Maradona seeing this went to challenge the keeper; however, Shilton being the goalkeeper and the bigger of the two was seen as the clear favourite to win the ball. Maradona somehow got to the ball first but diverted the ball into the net with the use of his hand which was above his head.

As the Maradona raced away to celebrate, many, including some of his teammates thought the goal would be disallowed. When the linesman and the referee gave the goal, Argentina celebrated while England appealed that a crime had taken place.

The Goal of the Century

Just four minutes later, those watching almost forgot about what had just happened. Diego Maradona cemented his legacy as one of the greatest of all time with a wonder goal to give Argentina a two-nil lead. Collecting the ball in his own half, the diminutive maestro ran at the England midfield and defence at full speed. Beating several players on a mazy run, Maradona was left with only keeper Shilton to beat. A feint left Shilton wrong-footed and despite a desperate attempt by England’s Terry Butcher who had already been beaten to reach him with a sliding tackle, the ball was rolled into the net.

In just four minutes on the grandest stage of them all, Maradona showed everyone what he was about. Controversial but brilliant.

England pulled a goal back through striker Gary Lineker on 81 minutes but despite their late pressure, England could not find the equaliser or an answer to what had happened earlier.

The Aftermath of Diego Maradona’s Hand of God Goal

Following the game, Maradona was probed by journalists asking him about the controversial goal that helped knock England out of the World Cup. Argentina’s captain said the quote that would be linked to the goal forever: “Un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios,” (“a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”).

The then England manager Bobby Robson did not hold back when questioned about the handball. He said: “No ifs or buts about it, Peter Shilton doesn’t like to be beaten and it was obvious that Maradona had not got his head to it, but his hand. That goal, which should never have been allowed, gave Argentina the edge. It was a bad refereeing decision and you don’t expect one like that at World Cup level.”

England would return home from Mexico angered at the way they were knocked out of the tournament. Whereas Maradona and Argentina would go on to win the greatest prize in football, the World Cup, defeating West Germany 3-2 to win the trophy for a second time.

What Was Said in Later Years


Speaking more than 20 years after the game, Maradona said: “I never spoke of forgiveness,” he said. “I said only that the story could not be changed, that I do not have to apologise to anyone, because it was a football game for which there were 100,000 people in the Azteca stadium, twenty-two players, two linesmen and one referee.”

Teammate Jorge Valdano was not surprised by the goal which Maradona scored using his hand. He said: “He had worked on it in training. It wasn’t the first time. When I took corners in training, he would get on the end of it and the ball would hit the net. Some would laugh and wonder: ‘What happened here?’ Others said: ‘Didn’t you see? He used his hand!’

“That’s why I wasn’t surprised when he scored that way against England. He meant it. I could sense some doubt in his goal celebration, and he hinted at it when we embraced. He said: ‘To the kick-off, quick.’ I had some doubts (about whether it would stand). I ran back very quickly.”


In a recent edition of the magazine FourFourTwo, the England goalkeeper that day Peter Shilton was asked about the game, the goal and Maradona. He said: “It’s not a game I remember fondly, especially the first goal as it cost us a place in the semi-finals. Maradona realised he wasn’t getting the ball. He cheated and got away with it. I do blame the referee and linesman – it was their job to see that.

On ever meeting Maradona afterwards, Shilton added: “There were times when I was offered a lot of money to meet him but I said, look, he’s got to apologise, then we’ll shake hands and draw a line under it. He wasn’t prepared to do that.”

Striker Gary Lineker who scored England’s consolation goal has been able to forgive the Argentina legend easier than others. In an interview with Marca, when asked if he had forgiven Maradona, Lineker said: “Of course. I think the one I haven’t forgotten about was the referee. His linesman saw the handball – I am certain. But I think he was afraid.”

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