The Hand of God
The opening goal of the Argentina vs England match in the 1986 world cup has gone down in history as not only arguably the most unusual goal ever scored, but also one of the most politically and culturally important. The match took place as part of the quarter-final round of an intense world cup that Argentina would later champion.
The goal itself was so bizarre and shocking that it still stands today as one of the greatest examples of the luck, deceit, and cruel misfortune that makes soccer so addicting to the masses. Six minutes into the second half with the score tied 0-0, Diego Maradona began an impressive drive up the middle of England’s defense. After successfully dribbling around three defenders, Maradona dumps the ball to his teammate on his right as he continues to dart towards the goal. All three defensemen between Diego and the goal seem to abandon Maradona and switch their attention to his fellow Argentinian, allowing Maradona to occupy too much open space directly in front of the goal. In a split second, Maradona’s pass was returned to him not by his teammate, but by a desperate defender trying to clear the ball at an awkward angle, leading him to kick the ball over his head and directly back to a poised Maradona. As the keeper lunges out towards the Argentinian superstar, Maradona jumps high in the air to challenge for the ball. Feeling as though he miscalculated his jump, Diego quickly whips his left hand up and punches the ball into the net with a coordinated motion of his head, tricking the referee into believing that the goal was fair and not an act of the Hand of God.
Argentina would go on to win the match 2-1 on another one of Maradona’s famous goals, but the match was important for more than just the world cup. Argentina and England have a historic rivalry on and off the soccer pitch, making this match an embodiment of political and cultural issues that surrounded the countries relationship. The Argentinian-English soccer rivalry can be traced back to the 1966 world cup, in which an ugly match between the two national teams resulted in the expulsion of the Argentinian captain. In a fit of frustrated rage, he stomped on the English stadium’s royal carpet, an offense which led to the English manager branding the Argentinians as “animals”. The insult was taken to be a racist attack, and the rivalry has been intense and politically charged ever since1. In addition to the soccer rivalry, the 1986 world cup took place just four years after the Falklands War, a short series of battles that ended in a well trained British army massacring nearly 700 marginalized, unprepared Argentinian soldiers in a campaign to secure control over the contested Falkland Islands2. These events set up the 1986 world cup matchup to represent not only an intense football rivalry, but also a chance for Argentina to symbolically vindicate their slain countrymen. Diego Maradona’s storied Hand of God goes down in history as the most unjust mishap to ever unify a country and avenge the death of hundreds of fallen soldiers.
1Tyers, Alan. “1966 World Cup Quarter-Final: England vs Argentina – as It Happened.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 23 July 2016, www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2016/07/23/1966-world-cup-quarter-final-england-vs-argentina-live/.
2“Key Facts: The Falklands War.” BBC News, BBC, news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/guides/457000/457033/html/.