MENTION the 1986 World Cup and three words will be instantly muttered by countless football supporters across the globe.
Not Argentina the champions, but ‘Hand of God’. Or, as Spanish speakers say, Mano de Dios.
Those infamous events in the Estadio Azteca occurred 30 years ago on Wednesday, with a cheeky waft of the left hand of Diego Armando Maradona in Argentina’s 2-1 quarter-final victory over England representing one of the most controversial moments in World Cup history.
It happened 51 minutes into a contest between two rivals who had been at war four years earlier – on the football field, animosity had prevailed much earlier.
In 1966, Alf Ramsey labelled Argentine players as “animals” for their behaviour at Wembley in the World Cup quarter-final when Antonio Rattin was controversially sent off.
Relations between both countries then worsened after Estudiantes’ brutal treatment of Manchester United during the 1968 Intercontinental Cup.
Then in 1977, Leeds United defender Trevor Cherry was sent off for retaliating after being punched in the mouth by Daniel Bertoni in a combustive ‘friendly’ in Buenos Aires, which left him with two broken teeth.
But events in Mexico City almost three decades ago were quite something else.
Argentine fans had burned Union Jack flags during the tournament, and a prominent Buenos Aires politician had submitted a request for a minute’s silence for the slain Argentine soldiers in the Falklands War before kick-off.
The tension was there to see in a first half that was nip and tuck before the blue touch paper was lit.
Six minutes into the second half, Steve Hodge lofted a loose ball back towards Peter Shilton, only for Argentina captain Maradona to clearly use his hand to divert into the net.
Maradona’s hoodwinking antics were not instantly spotted by observers, although they were by Peter Shilton and England’s defenders – but crucially not by Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser.
A TV documentary to be screened on the 30th anniversary on Wednesday will reveal that Maradona admitted within half an hour of the game that he had used his hand – the revelation coming from Terry Butcher who gestured to Maradona whether he had used his head or head while the pair were in the medical room after being chosen for the routine post-match drug test.
Maradona pointed to his hand.
What could not be disputed was the sheer majesty of Maradona’s beautiful and perfectly legitimate second goal not too long after when he slalomed his way through what seemed a sea of white-shirted defenders to net a strike of breathtaking genius.
England made a game of it thanks to Gary Lineker’s strike and went desperately close to a leveller – but the only talking point was Maradona’s opener.
Bitterly-disappointed manager Bobby Robson rued: “The first goal was a disgrace. It was handball, and it was a dreadful mistake, but the second goal was a miracle.”