TUNIS - Diego Maradona kissed and hugged the referee who allowed his handball goal in the 1986 World Cup and presented him with a signed Argentina jersey when the two met in Tunisia this week, local media reported.
Maradona's quarter-final goal against England in Mexico City gained added notoriety when the tiny Argentine, who tapped the ball over the head of onrushing goalkeeper Peter Shilton with his fist, claimed it had been scored by the 'Hand of God'.
Tunisian referee Ali Bennaceur failed to spot the handball and allowed the goal to stand amid furious protests from the England players, prompting a debate, that still rages on today, over the use of referees from smaller nations in major matches.
The pair exchange gifts for the cameras when they met in Tunis on Monday with Bennaceur handing the former Argentina skipper a framed photo of himself, Maradona and Shilton, who captained England, before the match at the Azteca Stadium.
In return, the 71-year-old former referee received a Maradona shirt inscribed with the words "For Ali, my eternal friend".
In interviews in later years, Bennaceur blamed his Bulgarian assistant Bogdan Dotchev for failing to alert him to the moment when Maradona punched the ball past Shilton to give Argentina the lead in the match they went on to win 2-1. "Before the game, FIFA gave us clear guidelines: 'If your colleague is better placed than you are, his decision should take precedence.' That's what I did: my assistant did not raise his flag," he told a French football magazine So Foot recently.
He also claimed a role in Maradona's second strike, a brilliant weaving run that started in his own half and continued through the entire English defence which is often described as the 'goal of the century'. "Maradona did not score that all by himself, that goal. I was his assistant: I played three advantages. I did not have to. For the first foul, he stumbled. The second came just on the edge of the area. I shouted 'advantage, advantage'. "And when he entered the area, I was expecting (Terry) Butcher to slice him down. I put my whistle to my lips, I was ready to intervene but I didn't blow." Argentina went on to beat West Germany 3-2 in the final.