Football fans of all ages know the reference to the contentious ‘hand of god’ goal from Diego Maradona in the 1986 FIFA World Cup Finals against England. Though footage later showed that Maradona had used his hand to score, and the star himself admitted as much in a 2008 interview, officials allowed it to stand.
Argentina went on to win the game and take home their second World Cup title, while English fans have forever held onto the misgivings that occurred in Estadio Azteca. Though many fans have yet to warm to VAR, this would’ve been the perfect time to use it.
If anything, the incident has continued to light a fire under the Three Lions. After a tough loss to Italy in the European Championship Final, all eyes are on the English side to leverage its golden generation into a meaningful run in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Even in places like the US, where betting is relatively new and sports fans prefer the NFL to the MLS, oddsmakers are putting out lines. With more Latin influence around the country, the diversity of football odds is increasing with each year, as are the availability of football picks from analysts and pundits.
For the most part, fans know which team is the favorite to win at every leg of World Cup competitions—even the qualifiers. What’s less clear is which players will have the tenacity to get the ball in the net at any cost. These unpredictable moments are part of the reason why fans love the sport.
Will there be a comparable goal in next year’s FIFA competition? With VAR in use, probably not, which is what makes 1986’s Hand of God incident even more iconic. Looking back, here are a few reasons the goal stands out for football fans around the world.
More Than Football
Most English fans hate Maradona for the goal… millions more love him for it. But why is that? The goal was a flagrant rule break that resulted in a massive win. Fans tend to love such underdog stories, and in 1986, England and Argentina had even more to prove.
The countries had recently ended an armed conflict in the Falklands, which introduced political and social aspects to the game. In other words, any country that had felt wronged by the English glommed onto the Argentinian side, which represented more than football.
In reality, football is the grand equalizer. Race, creed, and gender don’t matter for the players on the field; what matters most is a win through sheer effort and hustle. But, in the case of Maradona, there’s an added element to the 1986 Hand of God goal.
A Man of the People & an Absolute Legend
As mentioned above, despite the fact that football fans now know that Maradona scored on an illegal hand ball, people still consider the goal one of the greatest of all time. One reason is that Maradona had a reputation for championing charitable causes; his death last year felt like a personal loss for many Argentinians.
One Harvard professor details the experience of losing Maradona, citing moments when he felt a type of rapture watching the player compete. It wasn’t just good football, but the same type of artistic drive that those like Miles Davis.
The professor goes on to detail how many countries, including Britain and the US, saw his goal as cheating. Those in South America, and especially Argentina, saw it as a cunning, almost hilarious way to upend the traditional power nodes present at the time.
As mentioned above, football is the grand equalizer… and it’s possible that Maradona’s goal was leveling that ground a bit more. Until he retired, he was viewed by his countrymen as a national hero that bound people together despite social issues.
The ‘Hand of God’ in Other Games
After the game, Maradona credited his goal as receiving help from the ‘hand of God’. Since then, the term has come to describe illegal goals in the pre-VAR era, which have been connected to some of the world’s most popular players.
During the 2010 World Cup qualifying playoff, Thierry Henry of France assisted a goal which led the team to a 2-1 victory. However, footage later showed that Henry had guided the ball with his hand before passing it off. Once again, the goal was allowed to stand. Immediately after, the press dubbed the hand ball from Henry the ‘New Hand of God’.
In the following World Cup, Luis Suárez blocked a shot in a match against Ghana in the quarter-finals. Unlike Henry and Maradona, Suárez was given a red card. However, at a post-game press meeting, all he had to say was that he’d done it with the ‘Hand of God.’
Both examples highlight how an illegal move can actually become an ingrained aspect of the sport. Once again, VAR will limit the number of such incidents—which begs the question for many, should there be space left in the sport for chance and mistakes? Should there be a tiny caveat for the impossible to happen?
Maradona & VAR
Regardless of how football fans answer that question, we have Maradona’s own feedback to work with. In an interview with FIFA, the player admitted VAR would have disqualified his goal; he even admits to saving a goal in the 1990 World Cup, then brings up England’s 1966 victory, which saw a goal count that didn’t actually go over the line.
It seems Maradona is acknowledging the fact that false calls have been a part of the sport’s past, and have led to more than a few major outcomes in the World Cup alone. In the interview, Maradona goes on to say that VAR and technology will be used in the future of football.
Though he cited the fact that wrong calls could change the tide of a game, giving one team the momentum they needed to win, Maradona is quoted, “Technology brings transparency and quality, and it provides a positive outcome for teams who decide to attack and take risks.”