For most of us in India, Football, the greatest sport invented by mankind, was introduced only in 1982. Except for few states and UTs like West Bengal, Kerala and Goa, it was all about Cricket. 1982 changed that when the football finals were telecast first time on Television. All we knew about the great game was, Brazil is the best footballing nation and Pele was its greatest player. And Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are the only two famous football clubs. India’s football ranking is exactly the opposite of her position in terms of population. We are second most populated country and in football ranking of nations we are far behind South Korea, Senegal and Sudan.
We started following Brazil and Zico became a household name especially after his bicycle kick goal against New Zealand. I just found out that the goal is still one of most searched item in Google. Before I could finish typing Zico bicy… I got the answer. And here it is. Brazil Vs New Zealand 1982 W Cup Zico Bicycle Kick HD – YouTube
Once Brazil went out, we started supporting France, the new found love for France was due to our joining Alliance Francaise to study French language. Once they were knocked out (controversially), the support went to the eventual winner, Italy and to Paolo Rossi one of the handsomest player and the highest scorer in the 1982 edition.
1986 was probably the most memorable sporting event in our lives. During the finals, everyone had one word to utter and utter repeatedly. Diego. Diego. Diego. Imagine in a sport which is played by every nation in the UN and then some, where only the best to get to play the finals, and in a team sport, a player becomes the center of attraction and attention. That was his magic. In an era before Cable Television, Google and Internet, people talked about the boy genius, about his club Boca Juniors, about the control he had on the football, which even the serious fans of the sport accepted that they have not seen or heard before.
The quarter final match between Argentina and England was much anticipated one. England thought they genuinely had a chance (they have not won the finals since 1960). But Maradona had different ideas. I personally think, the hand of God goal was blown up to this extent thanks to English press and they have not got over it till today. Every major sporting event has some controversy which is inevitable. England has taken this too far, for too long.
The next goal scored by Diego put all the doubts to rest. Called the ‘goal of the century, Maradona took the ball from his side, dribbled with admirable control and posted it in the goal post single handedly. I need to borrow an article from Indian Express by Sudip G who has described this very well.
“With England yet to recover from the ‘first hand of God’ goal, physically and psychologically, Glenn Hoddle gave the ball away cheaply in the middle of the Argentina half. It was bunted upfield to Maradona, who was closer to his own goal than his center-line. Spinning around, he took off and tore past the frozen Peter Beardsley and Peter Reid, then slithered to right. The ball struck hypnotically to his feet, as though entranced by the grandeur of the man.
He then teased past Terence Butcher, and then cut inside as the strapping defender lunged cynically. Maradona picked up more space and slipped past Fenwick, before drawing goalkeeper Peter Shilton off his line. Maradona rounded Shilton on the right, holding off Butcher, who had resiliently come back, and placed ball into the right-hand side of the exposed net.
A “golazo”, screamed the Spanish commentator. A scream so loud that the commentator emptied two liters of water at one go, so the story goes.“
We have seen great players who performed amazingly well in the finals. From Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to Platini, to Zidane to Ronaldo in winning the cup for their teams. But no one comes even close to the Maradona Magic of 1986.
JK, Mohan and I watched the 1990 finals in our Shivaji Nagar room in Pune hoping Maradona will pull off his magic again. The final of the finals just dragged on before West Germany pulled off a goal in the extra time I think. What a contrasting match compared to the 1986 finals.
Maradona appeared in one more final 1994 and I think he was sent back midway through the tournament after he failed a drug test.
But he was never off the news nor off people’s mind. During every world cup finals, the current sensation is always compared with the great Diego. Most fail the test including Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as they are still not able to win the cup for their country. I am not saying that’s the only yardstick. But the greatest players play their best role in the greatest of games.
Off the football field, Maradona was always in the news for some reason or other. Even when he was in the news for the wrong reason, somehow, we connected with him and wanted the best to happen to him. Whether it was his drug abuse or health concerns or when he gained so much weight, all we wanted for him was, he should recover from it. That was the connect he made with billions of people all over the world. He always did till the day before when an heart attack took him away.
We have invented the game of football, but then The God has sent down an angel to represent the sport and that was Diego Armando Maradona. RIP Dear Diego.