Diego Armando Maradona
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
Maradona’s second goal was a spectacular individual effort. It is considered the greatest goal ever scored at a FIFA World Cup tournament.
One of the greatest soccer players of all time has died. Diego Maradona—the star diminutive Argentine player whose performance at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico earned him prestige and worldwide attention—died of a heart attack on November 25.
Two weeks before his death, Maradona was released from a Buenos Aires hospital following brain surgery. Maradona was not big in stature (five feet, five inches tall), but on the soccer pitch he was a giant. Maradona often would exploit the weaknesses of his opponents. His low centre of gravity was an asset. He was able to change direction quickly, making it difficult for opponents to defend him. He was explosive when he carried the ball—accelerating and dribbling quickly past several players. Maradona was also a dangerous penalty kick taker and free kick specialist. He is worshipped and considered a God in his home country of Argentina. Maradona is respected so much for his accomplishments on the soccer pitch that he was named FIFA Player of the Century (along with Pelé) in December 2000.
Tributes poured in on social media from many great soccer players. Pelé posted his thoughts on Twitter: “What sad news. I lost a great friend and the world lost a legend. There is still much to be said, but for now, may God give strength to family members. One day, I hope we can play ball together in the sky.” Lionel Messi posted on Instagram, “A very sad day for all Argentines and football. He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal.” And Cristiano Ronaldo posted on Instagram, “Today I say goodbye to a friend and the [world] says goodbye to an eternal genius. One of the best ever. An unparalleled magician. He leaves too soon, but leaves a legacy without limits and a void that will never be filled. Rest in peace, ace. You will never be forgotten.”
To understand the greatness of Maradona is to be cognizant about his background. He was born on October 30, 1960 in Lanús, Argentina. He was the fifth of eight children, grew up in poverty, and was raised in Villa Fiorito—a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. An early fateful moment occurred when young Diego, for his third birthday, received a gift from his uncle Cirilo: a soccer ball. For the young Maradona, the game of soccer was a way out of hardship. At the age of 15, he would make his pro soccer debut for Argentino Juniors. Maradona later played for other club teams: Boca Juniors (two stints), Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla, and Newell’s Old Boys. During his seven seasons with Napoli, he led the team to its only two Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990. He also led Napoli to the 1989 UEFA Cup title.
In 1978, Argentina won the World Cup on home soil. Maradona was a 17-year-old, but did not play. Argentina head coach, César Luis Menotti, felt the young soccer prodigy was too young and inexperienced. Maradona would get the opportunity to play for his country in the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Unfortunately, his World Cup debut would end prematurely. In a second-round match against Brazil (Brazil would win by a score of 3 to 1), Maradona received a red card after delivering a vicious kick at the groin of Brazilian midfielder, Batista.
Redemption for Maradona would occur at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. It was his zenith as he led Argentina to a World Cup victory over West Germany—the final score was 3 to 2. Maradona scored five goals in the tournament (he also won the Golden Ball award as tournament MVP). However, the tournament did not go without controversy. During the quarterfinal match against England, Maradona scored Argentina’s first goal by punching the ball with his left-hand past England goalkeeper, Peter Shilton. England players protested to the referee, but to no avail. The goal counted. The controversial goal would become famously known as the “Hand of God.”
However, Maradona’s second goal was a spectacular individual effort. It is considered the greatest goal ever scored at a FIFA World Cup tournament. Maradona, after getting possession at mid-field, proceeded to quickly move the ball downfield. He dribbled past five English players before scoring while falling. Former England striker, Gary Lineker, played for England against Maradona in that controversial game. In the 2006 BBC documentary, When Lineker met Maradona, Lineker praised the star’s spectacular goal: “It’s probably the one and only time in my whole career that I felt like applauding the opposition scoring a goal.”
Unfortunately, Maradona’s off-field problems would often overshadow his on-field exploits. In 1991, Maradona failed a doping test and was banned for 15 months. He then admitted he had a longtime cocaine addiction. In the 1994 World Cup in the US, Maradona was banned from the tournament after testing positive for the banned substance, ephedrine; it was the end of the superstar’s international career. In 91 appearances for Argentina, Maradona scored 34 goals. He retired from professional football in 1997, having played two seasons in a second stint with Boca Juniors.
In his retirement in 2008, Maradona managed Argentina’s national team—qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Argentina would lose to Germany in the quarterfinal by a score of 4 to 0. After Argentina’s exit, Maradona’s contract was not renewed. In 2019, he coached the Argentine Primera División club, Club de Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata.
Maradona was magnetic and mesmerizing; a brilliant once-in-a-lifetime star who captivated football lovers worldwide. He also proved that he was not infallible and was capable of making mistakes because he was human. No matter what Maradona did in his personal life, it will not overshadow his achievements and greatness on the soccer pitch. As millions of fans mourn his death, they will remember number 10 as one of the greatest soccer players who ever lived.