Pele may have won more World Cup titles, Ronaldo may have scored more goals, Lothar Matthäus played more games but no one has dominated the World Cup as much as Diego Maradona. He won the trophy in 1986, scored 7 goals in 21 consecutive appearances over four tournaments from 1982 to 1994 and was never far from the centre of World Cup controversy. The sad departure in 1982, the ‘Hand of God’ and subsequent wonder goal against England in 1986, the tears in the final of 1990 and the drug scandal in 1994 have all meant that Maradona is a definite part of World Cup history.
When the 1982 World Cup in Spain started, Maradona was playing his club football with Barcelona and the whole world was waiting for him to shine, unfortunately so were the defences of the other participating nations who ganged up on him and, much like Pele in 1966, kicked him out of the tournament. Maradona never really got going and his frustration was evident from the atrocious tackle on Brazilian player Dirceu in the second round that gave him a straight red card as his side was eliminated.
Four years later in Mexico and this time he was at the peak of his career. Many focus only on the so-called ‘Hand of God’ moment against England but he also scored against Italy in the group stage and then in the knock-out rounds he got the winners against England and Belgium before playing the match-winning pass in the World Cup final against Germany to help Argentina lift the trophy. He was, quite simply, the best player in the world. Though this team had great players it was clear that they were carried to the title by the skill, the pride, the courage, the technique and the determination of their leader Maradona.
He almost did it again four years later in Italia 90 with a much weaker side and despite the fact that he was hampered by injuries, Maradona took the team to the final – his assist for the goal against Brazil in the second round a particularly sweet moment – before losing to West Germany on a controversial penalty. The following World Cup in 1994 turned out to be the low point in his football life as he was banned from the competition for taking illegal drugs and he returned home in disgrace never to play for the national team again.
However, his pride at representing his country, his intense passion for the game, the style with which he played it and the fact that he made people fall in love with the sport has meant that despite the controversies that seemed to follow him, Diego Maradona is the greatest ever World Cup star.
Here are explanations of some of the words and phrases from the reading.
consecutive appearances: A run of games without a break, e.g. 21 games in a row
ganged up on him: The other teams bullied him, they targeted him
side was eliminated: To be knocked out, sent home
peak of his career: At the top of his game, he was playing better than ever
‘Hand of God’: Infamous goal against England that he scored with his hand – Maradona called it ‘Mano de Dios’
knock-out rounds: If you win you progress to the next round and if you lose, you go home.
hampered by injuries: To be held back (be slower) due to injuries
banned from the competition: To be told to leave, to be kicked out of the tournament
in disgrace: To have no honour
representing his country: To play for his country