Early in the second half there came a classic Maradona move from just outside the box. Maradona left two defenders in his wake and kicked a low ball that his target, Valdano, easily tapped home. It was 3-0 now, though later, apparently through sheer Argentine listlessness, the Koreans were permitted to make the final score 3-1.
Not one of those three Argentine goals was scored by Maradona, but in a sense each one was his. That two of them resulted from free kicks is not surprising. More than 70% of goals at the top level of the game originate from dead-ball, set-piece plays—a fact which is a criticism of the way soccer is evolving. Indeed, it is the ability of such stars as France's Platini and Mexico's Sanchez to create scoring plays in the midst of live action that sets their names alongside that of Maradona when the roster of World Cup heroes—or this particular provisional roster—starts to be assembled.
Maradona almost lost the aura of a hero when he arrived at Barcelona in 1982. Barcelona is a civilized city, and it loved its soccer team. But when Maradona arrived and rented a house, then had the ceilings repainted to his but almost nobody else's taste and served guests at the dinner table with a plate in each hand, bouncing a soccer ball on his thigh, there was disapproval. There was more when he and his friends, five or six carloads, would close down restaurants for the evening.
In the end, though, the fooling had to come to a stop. Most important, the man whom many observers regarded as Diego's Svengali, his longtime agent Jorge Cyterszpiler, was quietly discarded. Thereafter, and especially after his transfer to Napoli of the Italian League, Maradona seemed to become a real athlete again.
That was apparent in Puebla last Thursday in what conceivably might have been a dress rehearsal for the World Cup final on June 29. Italy went ahead on a penalty kick by Alessandro Altobelli after, mysteriously and under no pressure, Argentina's midfielder Jorge Burruchaga touched the ball with his hands in his own penalty area. Only seven minutes had elapsed.
But with about 15 minutes left, a touch of genius came into play. Argentine goalie Nery Pumpido released a harmless-looking pass that Valdano eventually picked up in the Italian half. Valdano flicked it over the heads of Maradona and his Italian shadow, Salvatore Bagni. (Bagni happens to play with Diego on the Napoli team.) The men were standing side by side. What happened thereafter you might have been able to freeze on your VCR, but the unassisted eye simply saw Maradona surge away like Secretariat in his prime, virtually ignore Gaetano Scirea, Italy's captain, and left-foot the ball for the equalizer as if completing the pattern of a formal dance.
Final score: 1-1. It's that kind of perfection that makes Maradona San Diego.