Monday, December 8, 2008


When asked at a meeting with newspersons in Kolkata yesterday which was the best goal he ever scored, Diego Maradona said “Hand of God goal”. Probably it was said rather jocularly, but not all the newspersons present seem to have taken it that way. In any case, this is one of the two goals that have become part of football legend, the other being the one he scored minutes after this goal. The first one was ugly, and the second, sublime. But where the ugly scored over the sublime is the discourse of football, which acquired the phrase “hand of God goal”. In fact, almost fittingly, Maradona is the one responsible for the phrase too – he described it as a goal that was scored “a little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God”. The phrase has the force of a proper noun - since the great man’s, surely goals have been scored through cheating, and will continue to be, but the phrase will not refer to any other.

I think not many would have cared to remember the first goal if he hadn’t scored within minutes that absolutely unbelievable second goal, which has been voted as the first best goal of the century. Some even said he made amends with this goal. He scored a good goal in the semi-final, but didn’t score in the final of that World Cup, which Argentina won under his captainship. However, had he not scored that great goal, and someone else had scored the team’s second goal, taking Argentina to the semi-final, the infamous goal would have been forgotten amidst the victory celebrations of the World Cup. Who would have really worried about one illegitimate goal of the World Cup winning team, except of course the team that had lost out. Even now, two decades after the incident, there is at least one player of that English team, who is still bitter about that goal and has not forgiven Maradona.

We might like to see the “hand of God” goal in a different context. Just four years before they played that World Cup quarterfinal match, Argentina had suffered humiliation in the hands of England in the Falklands War, and the nation was deeply hurt - some say it still is; it sees UK as having occupied the islands that actually belong to it. Against this background, the football field had become an extension of the battlefield, and the match an opportunity for Argentina to redeem some honour. After 50 minutes of play when Maradona scored with his hand, and the goal was allowed, it was the turning point in that match. With that goal, England sank, as of course did the referee. Before England could recover from the frustration, helpless anger, and distress, Maradona scored his second. One cannot help feeling that the dazzle of that legendary goal was due in part to the psychological state of the English players at that stage. England recovered late and the brilliant Lineker scored and reduced the margin of defeat. It was actually with that “hand of God” goal that Maradona had sealed England’s fate. That goal may not be Maradona’s best, but it was certainly the most effective goal he ever scored.

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