World Cup: The foot, perhaps, of God

The greatest goal: Maradona, 1986

"I am going to cry.....

He's 25, he's 165cm, almost perfect as a player, but we don't know this yet. He played in the 1982 Cup, scored two goals, got sent off, left little impression. Diego Maradona in 1986 is an athlete in wait of a defining moment.

People score goals every day. Millions of them. None like this. Usain Bolt runs 100m in a straight line in under 10 seconds. This was 62m, past five players, involving six dribbles and about 11 touches of a ball, all with his left leg, in less than 11 seconds.

... Oh, my God!...

Goals are beautiful on their own, but goals also need subtext. A place. A time. Revenge plots. Lionel Messi against Getafe in 2007 is sensational, Maradona against England, 1986, is outrageous.

It was a World Cup quarter-final. It was four years after the England-Argentina Falklands War and Maradona wrote, "It was like beating a country, not a football team... We all said beforehand that we shouldn't mix the two things but that was a lie".

So is his first goal, it is counterfeit, a fake, scored with the hand in the 51st minute. You cannot compensate for cheating, not really, but only Maradona, only this urchin Picasso, can follow the immoral with the immortal.

...How beautiful football is! ...

In the 55th minute, 10 yards or so into his own half, he gets the ball. If you watch the video, it is still a stunning goal, but now you expect it. Then, in 1986, you're not ready for it, you can't be, for genius is about producing an act beyond the ordinary imagination.

His back is to the goal, he steps on the ball, spins and sneaks between two English players. Greatness is on the run. Terry Butcher arrives but Maradona slightly slows, stutters, accelerates and is gone like a passing wind.

There are imperceptible adjustments of body, tiny feints of shoulder occurring, all on the dead run. The defenders resemble those flags you see on ski runs, there just so that we can see Maradona bend and weave around them.

You can't think this fast. You answer to instinct. You just do. And so he does, dancing past Terry Fenwick, into the penalty area, Butcher closing in behind him again, a defender looming on the left, goalkeeper Peter Shilton sliding in front of him.

It all happens simultaneously. Maradona pulls the ball right, ghosts past Shilton, Butcher is kicking him, he is falling, Butcher is falling, the ball is in the goal.

... What a goal! Diego! Maradona! I am crying, forgive me...

The goal was voted as Fifa World Cup Goal of the Century, yet it requires no official label. Say the words "that goal" in any language and people just know.

Maradona needs this goal. In time, he will fire pellets at media, turn obese, have drug issues, but this is his painting on the ceiling of football's Sistine Chapel.

It is hard to capture such a goal and a man in words, but commentator Victor Hugo Morales - his commentary reproduced here in italics - did him justice that day. As Morales asked, echoing us all:

...Which planet are you from?

This article was first published on June 10, 2014.
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