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Clive Gammon
July 07, 1986
Superstar Diego Maradona fast-stepped Argentina to the World Cup championship over West Germany in Mexico City
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July 07, 1986

Tango Argentino!

Superstar Diego Maradona fast-stepped Argentina to the World Cup championship over West Germany in Mexico City

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West Germany had managed to sneak through its semi with France by scoring an early, lucky goal after a free kick, then hanging on until the Frenchmen's frustration became so intense that Rudolf Voeller was able to lob the ball over goal-tender Joel Bats and into the net in the game's final minutes. So West Germany was in the World Cup final for a record fifth time, and Beckenbauer had a new preoccupation: Dieguito, el cebollita, the little onion himself. Franz, as usual, was frank. "He is the best player in the World Cup," the German coach said. "The best player in the world. We will do our best to put him out of the game, but it is almost impossible."

Those words didn't frighten Diego, not after playing two seasons as a marked man with Naples in the notoriously physical Italian league. But neither was Maradona as unimpressed with the West Germans as were most of the soccer cognoscenti. " Germany's strong point is that it plays like a team," he said. "It never gives up. It is hard and tough-tackling. I'd be ignorant not to have the greatest respect for their men, for Karlheinz Foerster, Lothar Matthaeus, the ones they'll put on me. But that's fine. If they use all that manpower to cancel me out, we let loose Burruchaga or Jorge Valdano. I especially want Valdano strong for the final."

How many games can a single genius win on his own? The answer is: as many as he needs to. For although Maradona scored no goals, he surely won the game. Still, when the final against West Germany began, it seemed that Maradona had been right to consider the threat a strong one. Brilliantly prepared by the demanding Beckenbauer, the Germans appeared to be a new team, attacking from the start, rather than playing cautious defense against the freewheeling Argentines as most had expected. Unexpectedly, it was Argentina with the strong defense, led by its fullback, Jose Luis Brown.

Joe Louis, as the English-speaking press delighted in referring to him, bears no relation to the great heavyweight champ, except perhaps in courage. Brown opened the scoring after Matthaeus, who spent the first half glued to Maradona, fouled the Argentina star and yielded a free kick. Burruchaga centered the ball and Joe—sorry—Jose unorthodoxly ran up from the defense to head it home and give Argentina a 1-0 lead. That score held through the first half, which was fine for the South Americans, except that soccer historians recalled that in its two championship years, 1954 and 1974, West Germany had come from behind to win.

As the second half began, West Germany's Norbert Eder, running in for a heading shot, crashed into Brown's right shoulder and appeared to displace it. Refusing to leave the field in spite of obvious pain, Brown played out the game with his right arm in a makeshift sling, his thumb hooked in a hole ripped in the front of his shirt.

With Brown heroically anchoring the defense, Argentina struck again 10 minutes into the second half. Maradona reached midfielder Hector Enrique with the ball, and Enrique sent it along to Valdano, who found a huge, undefended gap on the German left side and made the score 2-0.

But the West Germans, as Diego had predicted, would not die easily. From a corner kick, Voeller, an extra attacker who had been sent into the game early in the second half by Beckenbauer, headed it down in front of the goal to Rummenigge's right foot and it was 2-1 with 17 minutes left.

Only 7 minutes later, a second shock: From another corner kick, with eight Germans packed around the goalmouth, the ball found its way to the head of Voeller. Incredibly, it was 2-2. Until, that is, Dieguito once more stepped in and sent the pass to Burruchaga for the winning goal that ensured that tradition would stand: No World Cup fought in Latin America has ever been won by a European interloper.

All Sunday night in Buenos Aires people danced and car horns hooted; in some neighborhoods, celebration turned into rioting and at least three people were killed. There were fresh demands that Dieguito return home to play for an Argentine club. But he is happy in Naples, he says. And those close to Maradona declare he is still bitter that it has taken him, a cabecita negra—a "black head" as Argentines of Indian blood are demeaningly called—so long to be accepted by upper-crust Argentines.

No one in Buenos Aires would use the expression for Diego now, of course. He is El Rey. The King.

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