In 1982 budding superstar Diego Maradona had ended his tournament in disgrace. Four years later he was back and was about to mix a cocktail of controversy and brilliance that would echo down the decades in his personal quest to lift the World Cup.
The Winding Road to Mexico
Colombia had been announced as hosts for the 1986 World Cup back in 1974. However the expansion of the World Cup to 24 teams was beyond Colombia’s ability to host. Initially FIFA approved reducing the tournament back to 16 but hastily turned back to 24. In November 1982 Colombia pulled out saying they could not afford to host the enlarged event. The race for an alternate host was hastily arranged with Mexico, USA and Canada all bidding. FIFA claimed both Canada and USA had deviated from the stated criteria and Mexico became the first country to host a second World Cup.
On 19th September 1985 a severe earthquake hit Mexico City. Mexico’s position as World Cup host was in serious doubt, but with the stadiums not impacted the tournament would go ahead as planned. 121 countries entered the tournament with Canada, Denmark and Iraq making it for the first time, with Netherlands and original hosts Colombia notable absentees. The format was tweaked with the second group phase jettisoned in favour of a round of 16 and quarter finals, meaning four of the six teams finishing third in their groups would progress. Despite all the problems the World Cup would begin on 31st May 1986 and span 12 stadiums across Mexico.
Altobelli on Song
The opening match saw holders Italy take on Bulgaria at the Azteca Stadium. Italy had a largely veteran squad held over from ’82 but shorn of key men Zoff and Gentile. Paolo Rossi was out of form but Italy’s great attacking hope was Alessandro Altobelli whilst the defence still included Antonio Cabrini and Gaetano Scirea with coach Enzo Bearzot also returning. Italy were expected to brush aside Bulgaria and they dominated the first half, Altobelli got the deserved opener with a volley on the stroke of halftime. Italy had the better second half chances. With five minutes to go Borislav Mikhailov saved from Altobelli and Bulgaria countered, Nasko Sirakov got in-between two defenders to head in a fine equalizer to give Bulgaria had an unlikely point.
Two days later the other Group A opener saw Argentina take on South Korea. Argentina arrived at the tournament as second favorites on account of the world’s best player. Diego Maradona was now in his prime and desperate to make up for the disappointment of Spain ’82. The supporting cast wasn’t as good this time but Maradona had a good foil in Real Madrid striker Jorge Valdano whilst Oscar Ruggeri was a rock at the back. South Korea were making their first appearance at a finals since 1954 but had impressed at the 1983 World Youth Cup.
Argentina took the lead on six minutes when Maradona’s headed back the rebound of his own free-kick to Valdano who fired home. Argentina secured the points when another Maradona free-kick found the head of Ruggeri for 2-0. Maradona made it a hat-trick of assists when he tore down the right of South Korea’s box and crossed for Valdano to ease in for 3-0. Argentina took their foot off the gas and a fine strike from skipper Park Chang-Sun netted South Korea a consolation.
Next up came the heavyweight clash between the last two World Champions. The game quickly turned controversial when Italy won a soft penalty and Altobelli rolled his spotkick past Nery Pumpido on six minutes. Maradona forced his way into the box only to be denied by a last ditch Scirea challenge, but he soon got Argentina level with a deft finish from an acute angle. The teams traded chances in the second half with Conti smashing the post for Italy but the game ended a draw. The other game saw Bulgaria take on South Korea in a downpour. The conditions made for a tricky contest with a looped finish from Plamen Getov giving Bulgaria an early lead. South Korea forced Mikhailov into a string of saves before Kim Jong-Boo equalized on 70 minutes to secure a draw.
Italy then faces South Korea and got an early breakthrough when Altobelli kept his cool in a chaotic penalty area to put the Azzurri 1-0 up. South Korea levelled with a screamer from Choi Soon-Hoo on 62 minutes. Conti’s free-kick opened up South Korea and it was Altobelli yet again who poked in for 2-1. Late in the game Italy made it three when Fernando Di Napoli’s cross forced an own goal. South Korea were heading out but not without a fight and a well worked free kick saw Huh Jung-Moo volley in a consolation.
Argentina got an early goal against Bulgaria when Valdano powered home a fourth minute header. Bulgaria knowing a narrow defeat might squeeze them through showed little attacking intent. The impressive Jorge Burruchaga was emerging as a danger-man down the right wing, in the second half Maradona crossed from the left and Burruchaga headed in for 2-0 and secured top spot in the group whilst Bulgaria had to sweat on a place in round two.
Fast Starting Soviets
European Champions France kicked off Group C in Leon against newcomers Canada. France were powered again by three time Ballon d’Or Michel Platini who lead the ‘Magic Square’ midfield alongside playmaker Allan Giresse, the tigerish Jean Tigana and newcomer Luis Fernandez whilst the predatory Jean-Pierre Papin was a new threat in attack alongside Dominique Rocheteau. The unfancied Canadians frustrated France and Papin missed several chances before the young striker got his goal with a poacher’s finish in the 79th minute in a 1-0 win.
The next day an all Eastern European clash saw Hungary play USSR in Irapuato. The Soviets had made a late change of manager bringing back in Dynamo Kyiv boss Valery Lobanovskyi who immediately re-picked the squad with a heavy emphasis on Kyiv players. The squad had star names notably midfielder Aleksandr Zavarov, skillful sweeper Sergei Aleinikov and striker Igor Belanov. The Hungarians were a pale shadow of their teams of yesteryear with midfielder Lajos Detari their best player.
The Soviets exploded out of the blocks, Pavel Yakovenko scoring the opener inside two minutes and a rasping strike from Aleinikov made it 2-0 just two minutes later. Belanov put away a penalty for 3-0 before halftime. Yakovenko tore through the midfield just beyond the hour to set up Ivan Yaremchuk for 4-0. A late own goal and then another lightning counter attack saw substitute Sergey Rodionov make it a resounding 6-0 win, Lobanovskiy’s emphasis on speed and skill had worked.
The heavyweight clash of the group saw the Soviets take on France. The first half was cagey but the second burst into life on 53 minutes when Vasily Rats picked up the ball 30 yards from goal and unleashed an unstoppable strike to give the Soviets the lead. France weren’t behind for long with their fabled midfield putting together a flowing passing move that ended with Fernandez being played through the middle and grabbing the equalizer in a 1-1 draw.
The other game looked a battle for third place with Canada facing Hungary. Canada’s defence proved less resilient than it had against the French and Marton Esterhazy gave Hungary a second minute lead. Hungary remained in control and when Canada goalkeeper Tino Lettieri spilled a second half shot it fell kindly to Detary to stroke in the killer second goal.
The final round of games saw France take on Hungary in Leon. The French took half an hour to break Hungarian resistance through a bullet header from Yannick Stopyra. Tigana then got in on the act finishing a nice one-two on 62 minutes and Rocheteau had the freedom of the park to tap home a late third. France were through whilst Hungary’s awful goal difference made qualification unlikely.
Lobanovskiy shuffled his pack against Canada but it was Belanov on as a sub who got the breakthrough, turning provider with a cross for veteran Oleg Blokhin to slide home the opener, injuring himself in the process. The Soviets added a second thanks to Alexandr Zavarov’s chipped finish to top the group, whilst Canada’s first World Cup ended without a goal to their name.
Mexico’s Golden Boy
Mexico had to wait until the fourth day of the tournament to join their own party. Mexico hadn’t made much impression at a World Cup since 1970, but now had their greatest ever player in striker Hugo Sanchez. There was a credible team around Sanchez in strike partner Luis Flores, talented midfielder Tomas Boy whilst Fernando Quirarte lead a stout defence. Their opening opponents were an experienced Belgium team lead by Bayern Munich goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff and rampaging striker Jan Ceulemans, they also had a gem of a playmaker in 20-year-old Enzo Scifo.
110,000 packed the Azteca as Mexico got underway, on 23 minutes they took a deserved lead when Boy’s free kick was powered home by Quirarte. Fifteen minutes later a Boy corner was headed in by Sanchez to a thunderous roar from the home crowd. Belgium grabbed a lifeline when Erwin Vandenbergh headed in from a long throw just before halftime. But Mexico’s maintained their grip on proceedings and Belgium seemed overawed as the hosts won 2-1.
The other two teams Group B were Paraguay and new boys Iraq who were playing despite their nation being at war. Paraguay were making their first appearance since 1958 and had one of their best ever players in reigning South American Footballer of the Year Julio Cesar Romero. Iraq showed some early attacking intent but went behind when Romero arrived late onto a through-ball to poke Paraguay into a 1-0 lead they never looked like relinquishing.
Paraguay then took on Mexico in front of an even bigger Azteca crowd. They only had to wait three minutes to celebrate when a hopeful ball into Paraguay’s box found its way to Flores whose improvised finish made it 1-0. Paraguay recovered and assumed control of the midfield whilst Mexico almost scored on the break when Sanchez was foiled by goalkeeper Roberto Fernandez. Mexico sat on their lead in the second half and Paraguay continued to press. With five minutes to go Paraguay’s Adolfino Canete floated in a cross and Romero headed in the equalizer. The drama wasn’t over, in the final seconds Sanchez was controversially judged to have been fouled for a penalty. Sanchez picked himself up and fired for the right corner only for Fernandez to brilliantly push it away, moments later the referee blew for full-time.
Belgium needed to kickstart their campaign against Iraq and took the lead when Ceulemans turned and ran at the Iraq defence to play in Scifo who blasted in the opener from the edge of the box. Scifo then sent Franky Vercauteren away and drew a penalty which Nico Claesen despatched for 2-0 after 21 minutes. Belgium got complacent and Iraq got themselves back into the contest with a fine hit from Ahmed Radhi reducing the arrears to 2-1, but Belgium saw out a vital win.
Sanchez was suspended for Mexico’s game against Iraq, but Mexico produced an improved team performance and guaranteed top spot in Group B when Quirate found himself unmarked at a free kick and fired in from a tight angle for the only goal of the game. Belgium faced Paraguay in an entertaining encounter, a fine looped finish from Vercauteren gave Belgium the first half lead. Five minutes into the second a route one goal kick saw Paraguay’s Roberto Cabanas equalize. Nine minutes later Daniel Veyt finished a good passing move to restore Belgium’s lead, Scifo was then unlucky when he blasted a free kick onto the woodwork. Paraguay were level with 14 minutes to play thanks to another poacher’s effort from Cabanas, the draw guaranteeing both teams progressed.
Careca Gets Brazil Rolling
Brazil returned to the World Cup as favorites in ’86. The brilliant playmakers were back in Socrates, Zico and Falcao but this time Brazil had a clinical finisher in Sao Paulo striker Careca and in left-back Branco a deadeye freekick specialist. Brazil started in Guadalajara against a Spain team looking to put a dismal home World Cup behind them. Now under the stewardship of Miguel Munoz, Spain’s new look team had an excellent goalkeeper in Andoni Zubizarreta, a talented midfield schemer in Michel and an experienced skipper in Jose Antonio Camacho. The questions were upfront with young forward Emiliano Butragueno given the number 9 shirt.
After a cagey first half the game exploded into life in the second. Brazil got a huge let off when a tame clearance from a Spain corner went straight to Michel who lashed a stunning shot onto the crossbar and out, the ball appeared to cross the line but the goal wasn’t given. With tempers on the pitch rising Brazil went up the other end and scored from a corner but the goal was chalked off for a clear handball. Careca then thundered a shot onto the crossbar, this time Socrates was on hand with a close range header for 1-0. Careca tested Zubizarreta for Brazil and Michel’s volley forced a good save from Carlos at the other end, but Brazil had done just enough for a 1-0 win.
The other two teams in Group D were Northern Ireland and Algeria both of whom impressed in Spain four years earlier. Northern Ireland had an ace in the pack in striker Norman Whiteside and after just six minutes Whiteside’s freekick took a deflection off Algeria’s wall and in. Billy Hamilton then had a shot cleared off the line and missed a sitter as Northern Ireland sought a second. Algeria fought back and Djamel Zidane fired in a free-kick on the hour to earn Algeria a 1-1 draw.
Algeria then faced Brazil and did a solid job of frustrating the Brazilians. However they switched off in their own penalty area midway through the second half and Careca was on hand to put away a loose ball and secure a 1-0 Brazil win. The next day Spain played Northern Ireland in a rematch of their ’82 encounter. Spain got a perfect start when Michel’s defence splitting pass found Butragueno who tucked in an opening minute goal. Butragueno harried Sammy McIlroy into a loose pass on the edge of Northern Ireland’s box which Julio Salinas hit first time for 2-0 on 18 minutes. Northern Ireland got back into the game when Zubizarreta made a mess of a clearance and Colin Clarke pulled a goal back, but Spain held on for a 2-1 revenge win.
Spain needed a win over Algeria to be sure of progressing, Ramon Caldere gave Spain the early lead. Spain were finding their range, a brilliant counter attack was finished off by Caldere to ensure the win and substitute Eloy made it 3-0.
Northern Ireland’s final group game took place on goalkeeper Pat Jennings 41st birthday making him the oldest player to date to play a World Cup game. It wasn’t a happy occasion for the legendary ‘keeper with Careca lashing in the opener on 15 minutes. Any hope for Northern Ireland was extinguished just before halftime when Josimar was given time on the ball and smashed in a 30 yard howitzer for 2-0, Careca added a third. Careca was underlining his status as the best Brazil centre forward since Tostao.
Poland were seeds in Group G and ’82 hero Zbigniew Boniek again their leading light. However Poland’s golden era appeared to be drawing to a close with their new players a class below their predecessors, although goalkeeper Jozef Mlynarczyk was coming off a fine season with Porto. They faced a Morocco team featuring African Footballer of the Year Mohamed Timoumi. Morocco were compact defensively and the Poles appeared to struggle with the altitude in Monterey with Timoumi going close and Morocco providing the more incisive football in a 0-0 draw.
England were favorites in Group G. Bobby Robson was now in charge and although England lacked the depth of previous squads they had a world class goalkeeper in Peter Shilton with ’82 hero Bryan Robson now captain. In midfield alongside the steel of Robson was the silk of Glenn Hoddle whilst striker Gary Lineker was coming off a prolific season at Everton. However Lineker was still relatively unproven at international level and Robson was recovering from a dislocated shoulder. They began against Portugal who were back at the finals after a 20 year absence. Despite a good run at Euro ’84 they lacked the stars of the past, but Benfica winger Diamantino was a dangerman.
England had the majority of the game with Robson twice going close and Lineker uncharacteristically missing presentable chances. Fifteen minutes from the end England paid for their profligate finishing with Diamantino beating Kenny Sansom down the left and crossing for Carlos Manuel to turn home the only goal of the game.
England then faced Morocco in Monterrey and again Morocco looked sharp in the early exchanges. England’s bad start then blew into a crisis in two mad minutes just before halftime. First Robson aggravated his shoulder injury and was forced off, his tournament over. Then Ray Wilkins was sent off after kicking the ball back at the referee. Down to ten and minus their most influential players England struggled in the second half whilst Morocco were content to play for a point. The game ended 0-0 it seemed England’s campaign was unravelling.
The other game saw Portugal take on Poland and the Portuguese suffered a hammer blow ahead of the game with longstanding goalkeeper Manuel Bento breaking a leg in training. Poland looked more like their old selves and one of the old guard; midfielder Wlodzimierz Smolarek settled the game with a second half strike to give Poland a 1-0 win.
Bobby Robson was under intense pressure as England prepared to face Poland. With his namesake and skipper Bryan now on his way home Robson needed to reshape his team. He made four changes with a midfield now based around Hoddle with Peter Beardsley partnering Lineker in attack. England started nervously and Boniek almost gave Poland the early lead but for Terry Butcher’s intervention. After nine minutes things finally turned England’s way when a well worked move saw Gary Stevens cross and Lineker get in front of his marker to stab home. Two of the changes then combined with Beardsley feeding Steve Hodge who crossed for Lineker to make it 2-0 on 14 minutes. England suddenly had confidence, Hodge had a goal disallowed before an England corner was dropped by Mlynarczyk and Lineker slammed in for his hat-trick, England were through.
Portugal faced Morocco with the winners guaranteed to progress. Morocco again looked dangerous and this time found a cutting edge, lively winger Abderrakazak Khairi took advantage of some loose defending to blast in a long range effort and Morocco lead after 19 minutes. Seven minutes later a looping cross from fullback Labid Khalifa found Khairi who lashed home an incredible volley for 2-0. Portugal looked for a quick response and Antonio Sousa forced a brilliant save from Badou Zaki. Just beyond the hour another fine move inspired by Timoumi saw Abdelkrim Merry played through to smash in the third and despite a late Diamantino goal Morocco were through as group winners, becoming the first African team ever make the second round.
Group E was the toughest featuring West Germany, Uruguay, Scotland and Denmark. West Germany were looking to present a better face to the world after their controversial antics in ’82 and what better face than their greatest ever player as coach. Franz Beckenbauer didn’t have the strongest West German squad to chose from but still had veteran forward Karl-Heinz Rummenigge alongside new striker Rudi Voller. Andreas Brehme and Lothar Matthaus were approaching their prime and the team captained by the controversial Toni Schumacher looked sound defensively if lacking creativity. They started against a Uruguay team with a reputation for cynical tactics but featured a talented playmaker in Enzo Francescoli.
The game kicked off in Queretaro and after four minutes an awful back-pass from Matthaus saw Antonio Alzamendi pick the ball up and round Schumacher to open the scoring. In the second half West Germany went on the front foot with Klaus Augenthaler’s rasping drive cannoning off the woodwork. West Germany laid siege to the Uruguay goal and eventually got a deserved leveller when Klaus Allofs stole in and cooly stroked in with just six minutes to play, a point each for the two former champions.
The tragic death of Jock Stein had left Scotland in the stewardship of Aberdeen boss Alex Ferguson. The fiery manager had ditched big names Kenny Dalglish, David Speedie and Alan Hansen but had a trusted Aberdeen spine to the team in Jim Leighton, Willie Miller and Alex McLeish whilst Ferguson’s former charge Gordan Strachan provided creativity. Scotland were facing first time qualifiers Denmark. The Danes in their eye-catching pin stripped kit were an exciting addition featuring a dynamic front line in the predatory Preben Elkjaer and skillful Michael Laudrup. Frank Arnesen was a classy playmaker whilst defender Morten Olsen lead the backline.
From the first whistle the Danes sizzled with their incisive passing and pace in attack, Laudrup tormenting the Scottish defence and his clever turn and run almost lead to an early goal. For all their attacking promise, Denmark looked less sure at the back and and Scotland almost went ahead when Richard Gough got around the goalkeeper but couldn’t direct his shot under the bar. Arnesen was pulling the strings for Denmark and his through ball found Elkjaer who got away from Miller and angled in the opener on 57 minutes. Scotland pressed forward and Strachan’s shot from the wing almost embarrassed Troels Rasmussen, but Denmark held out for a 1-0 win.
Scotland then faced West Germany and needed a fine save from Leighton in the early exchanges. Scotland recovered and on 18 minutes Roy Aitken played Strachan down the right of the box and the diminutive winger fired home at the near post. Again the Germans found themselves behind, but this time not for long. On 23 minutes some clever footwork from Felix Magath unsettled the Scotland defence and fed Pierre Littbarski who played Allofs down the left and gave Voller a simple tap-in. Gradually West Germany wore Scotland down and their resistance was broken early in the second half when Voller caused chaos in Scotland’s defence and the ball broke to Allofs to lash in the second. West Germany couldn’t find a killer third and almost paid for it when substitute Davie Cooper weaved his way down the left flank and fired in a cross, Gough heading just over the bar and West Germany had the win.
Denmark then faced Uruguay. It took them just 11 minutes to open the scoring, Laudrup teasing his way through and playing in Elkjaer who made no mistake. Eight minutes later Uruguay were down to ten when a cynical challenge from Miguel Bossio earned a red card. Denmark were pulling Uruguay around and Elkjaer turned provider with a fine cross finding Soren Lerby for 2-0. On the stroke of halftime Uruguay finally responded when Francescoli was brought down and got up to put away the penalty for 2-1. Denmark dominated the second half, Laudrup cut through Uruguay’s defence and then rounded the goalkeeper for a brilliant individual strike on 53 minutes. Laudrup then bundled his way past two defenders to get a shot away, the ball trickled to Elkjaer for 4-1. Elkjaer’s hat-trick arrived on 80 minutes when he broke from the halfway line, leaving defenders trailing in his wake and rounding the keeper. Another break in the dying minutes was finished by Jesper Olsen to make it an emphatic 6-1.
Uruguay now faced Scotland. Uruguay knew a draw would do, Scotland had to win. In the first minute Uruguay were again down to ten men with Jose Batista sent off for a dreadful challenge on Strachan. Uruguay went defensive as Scotland struggled to take advantage, but should have taken the lead when the goal gaped in front of Steve Nichol only for Fernando Alvez to scramble across to save. Scotland lacked fluency in the second half and failed to put Uruguay under sustained pressure. Uruguay through a combination of cynical tactics and defensive grit kept Scotland at bay and got the 0-0 draw to go through.
West Germany and Denmark were both already through when they faced each other and Beckenbauer opted to rotate. Denmark who hadn’t beaten the Germans in 56 years went with a strong team and a Jesper Olsen penalty early in the second half gave them the lead. A fine team goal finished by John Eriksen made sure of a 2-0 win. One late hiccup for Denmark saw Arnesen pick up a red card but for now Denmark were the neutral’s darlings.
Hosts Advance, Holders Depart
Mexico opened the second round with snowballing excitement surrounding the hosts. Bulgaria who’d squeaked through the group were defensive from the opening kick-off and Mexico dominated the midfield looking for an opening. It came on 34 minutes when the inventive Manuel Negrete played a one-two on the edge of Bulgaria’s box and fired in an acrobatic volley. Mexico continued to dominate and on the hour Negrete”s corner was headed home by Raul Servin and Mexico were in the last eight.
The most eye-catching tie of the round saw Italy take on France. Italy showed early intent but France didn’t take long to settle into a groove and on 15 minutes Fernandez drove at Italy, Rocheteau drew the defence and played in Platini who beautifully lifted the ball over Giovanni Galli to put France ahead. France’s artistic midfield was looking imperious and Platini forced a sharp save from Galli and Fernandez hit the crossbar, Italy were on the ropes but made it half-time only one down but looked a jaded side. On 57 minutes the game was settled when Tigana burst through midfield, Rocheteau held the ball up and laid it on a plate for Stopyra to blast home for 2-0. The holders were out.
First Round Fancies Fall
Denmark and USSR had electrified the group phase and were on course to meet in the quarter-finals, if they could negotiate the second round.
The Soviets faced Belgium who’d scraped through round one. The two teams kicked off in Leon and the Soviets dominated the early exchanges with some nice passing moves, Yakovenko forcing a superb stop from Pfaff. Belgium seemed to ride out the early pressure but on 27 minutes Belanov picked up the ball on the edge of their box, found an angle and blasted in the opener. Shots began to rain in on both goals with the Soviets hitting the post but the halftime score remained 1-0. The second half was off to a quick start and on 56 minutes a Franky Vercauteren cross was missed by Anatoliy Demyanenko to leave Scifo unmarked to beat Dasayev at the near post 1-1.
The Soviets pressed forward and Zavarov won the ball to feed Belanov who slammed in for 2-1 on 70 minutes. Lobanovsky took off Zavarov as the Soviets looked to see out the game. The Belgians were probing but the Soviet defence looked compact, then on 77 minutes a hopeful long ball from Stephane Demol found Ceulemans in acres of space to fired in the equalizer, Ceuelmans was offside but Soviet protests were waved away and the goal stood. The Soviets thought they’d won it when Rats hit a trademark pile driver only to rattle the crossbar.
It would go to extra time and it was now Belgium who had a spring in their step. A short corner was worked to Eric Gerets whose pinpoint cross was met with a bullet header from Demol to put Belgium ahead. The second period of extra time began and the Soviets looked weary, they failed to clear a simple cross, the Belgians retrieved possession and a mix up in the box saw Claesen volley in for 2-4 with ten minutes to play. A minute later the Soviets won a penalty, Belanov put it away for his hat-trick and the game was alive once more. The Soviets pushed and Belgium almost got a fifth on the counter, the game fittingly ended with a good shot from Vadym Yavtushenko falling just wide and Belgium had won a thriller 3-4.
Denmark meanwhile faced Spain. The Danes had thrilled in the first round but were without the suspended Arnesen. Denmark made the better start with Elkjaer’s long range effort forcing a good save from Zubizarreta. Elkjaer then sent Klaus Berggreen away who was clipped and Jesper Olsen put away the resulting penalty on 33 minutes. Denmark were in control and looking for a second with Elkjaer dragging a shot wide. Then two minutes before halftime the game flipped, when Olsen played a horribly loose back pass straight to Butragueno who rolled in the equalizer.
Elkjaer almost put Denmark ahead when he rode three challengers and forced another fine stop from Zubizarreta. On 56 minutes Spain took the lead when Victor’s corner was flicked on by Camacho and Butragueno pounced with a close range header. The Danes’ passing became ragged with Spain picking them off on the counter. Butragaueno got clear again and was brought down, Andoni Goikoetxa putting away the spot kick for 3-1. With ten minutes to go Spain put the game out of reach, Butragueno’s cool finish making it 4-1. In the closing minutes Butragueno turned in the box and Morten Olsen’s frustrated challenge resulted in a penalty. Butragueno put the penalty away to become the fifth player to score four in a World Cup match and Denmark were routed 5-1.
Lineker Lights It Up
Lineker’s goals had revived England’s campaign, now they travelled to the Azteca to face Paraguay. Again England made an uncertain start with Canete forcing a good stop from Shilton. England took the lead on 31 minutes when Hoddle’s cross was pulled back by Hodge for Lineker to poke home. Hoddle was controlling the midfield and he combined with Beardsley to set up Linker who forced a smart stop from Fernandez. England dominated the second half. Lineker was cynically hacked down, but whilst he was off the pitch a corner was turned home by Beardsley for 2-0. Paraguay had a clear penalty denied, whilst Beardsley ballooned over after tricking his way through. The game was settled in the 73rd minute when Gary Stevens squared for Lineker who knocked in his fifth goal of the tournament to secure a 3-0 win.
At a half full Estadio Universitario in Monterey surprise package Morocco took on West Germany. Rummenigge made his first start of the tournament and wasted a glorious first half chance in the searing heat. It was a game of few clear cut chances and it seemed Morocco had done enough to send the match into extra time. But, three minutes from the end West Germany won a free kick over 30 yards out, Matthaus smashed a daisy cutter of a shot and it crept into the corner to see West Germany win an attritional contest.
Argentina faced Uruguay in a feisty derby. Maradona was everywhere, however his teammates were having an off day. First Valdano fluffed a chance from Maradona’s run and cross before Maradona hit the crossbar from a free kick. As half time approached Argentina took the lead when Pedro Pasculli slotted home. In the second half Maradona broke on the right and dribbled his way into the box but Pasculli couldn’t apply the finishing touch. Maradona then bulldozed his way down the left only to see the eventual Burruchaga chance cleared off the line. He then sent Valdano clear whose shot was saved, Maradona turned in the loose ball but the goal was ruled out for a high challenge. With Argentina missing chances Uruguay were still alive and Jorge Da Sliva’s shot was spilled by Pumpido causing a chaotic scramble in Argentina’s box and a mass brawl, but Argentina hung on.
There were no such problems for Brazil against Poland. The Poles started brightly only to concede a penalty when Careca was sent sprawling, Socrates converting the spot kick. The second half was one way traffic with Josimar dancing his way into the box and unleashing a brilliant angled drive for the second. With Poland forced to go forward Careca powered his way from the half way line and back-heeled the ball to Edinho who made it 3-0. Zico came off the bench to get in on the act when he drew a foul for Careca to make it 4-0 from the spot. Argentina had the best player but Brazil were still favorites heading into the last eight.
The heavyweight clash of the quarter-finals saw Brazil take on France. Both teams were quickly into their stride with chances falling at either end. It was Brazil who drew first blood, some fine skill from Josimar and Alemao initiating a move to play Muller and Junior into the middle of the penalty area and create the overload for Careca to finish a brilliant team goal. Already the midfield tussle was played to an astonishing level of skill as France tried to get level. The equalizer came on 40 minutes and was surprisingly scrappy, Giresse played a one-two with Manuel Amoros to send Rocheteau away to cross, Stopyra and Carlos both went for it and missed and with the ‘keeper and forward lying in a heap Platini was on hand to turn the ball home, 1-1 at half time.
France’s midfield were winning the arm wrestle with Platini and Giresse playing the ball around with exuberance. Brazil boss Tele Santana looked to the bench and brought on Zico after 72 minutes. Within a minute Zico had worked his magic, playing in Branco who forced Bats into conceding a penalty. Brazil celebrated what looked a killer blow as Zico stepped up to take it, he telegraphed his shot and Bats read it to paw the ball away and the scores remained level. Brazil still looked the more likely and Careca went close with a late chance but Bats again came to France’s rescue and the game went to extra time.
Limbs were tiring in the heat of Guadalajara, substitute Silas provided some fresh vitality to Brazil’s attack whilst France sub Bruno Bellone almost won it when Platini played him in, but Carlos did enough and Brazil got the ball away. After two hours of dazzling football the tie would go to penalties. Socrates was the first to take and Bats saved brilliantly to give France the edge. Both teams converted their next three, including Zico atoning for his earlier miss. Then Platini stepped up and incredibly blasted high over the bar, Brazil were back level. Julio Cesar then smashed his shot onto the post to put France on match point and Fernandez blasted home to send them to the semi-finals, the favorites were out.
For their quarter-final Mexico were finally forced to leave the Azteca to play in front of a smaller crowd in Monterey, the opposition were the redoubtable West Germans. The game proved another attritional affair, Allofs went close with a free kick for West Germany and then on 43 minutes his half volley forced a brilliant save from Pablo Larios to keep the game level. Mexico made a bright start to the second half but didn’t created clear cut chances. On 65 minutes West Germany’s Thomas Berthold was red carded and the crowd urged Mexico on. Mexico had a goal ruled out, then Javier Aguirre forced a brilliant reaction save from Schumacher and West Germany hung on for extra time.
As the minutes ticked down Aguirre was sent off for a cynical foul and the game was ten vs ten. West Germany were showing more attacking impetus but again penalties were required. West Germany went first and both teams put away their first spot kick away, but Schumacher saved from Quirarte to put West Germany ahead. Matthaus arrowed in to make it 1-3 and Raul Servin’s weak effort was saved, Littbarski put the final nail in Mexico’s coffin and West Germany were through.
Hand of God
The third Quarter-final was the most sensitive, Argentina vs England. The two countries had been at war just four years earlier and whilst publicly tension was played down, the atmosphere crackled as the two teams stepped out at the Azteca. Argentina made the quicker start and England defender Terry Fenwick picked up an early booking for a foul on Maradona who was already the dominant figure in the game. Yet it was England who had the best chance of the first half with Pumpido caught in no mans land and Beardsley hitting the side netting. England’s defence held but Argentina were on top.
The second half started in a similar fashion, then on 51 minutes came the most notorious goal in World Cup history. Maradona darted through the centre and aimed a ball to Valdano, Hodge intercepted and the ball flew up, Maradona followed in and rose to meet the ball with Shilton closing, needing extra inches to beat the ‘keeper Maradona flung up his arm and handled the ball into the net. Maradona wheeled away to celebrate, his teammates unsure if to follow, everyone in the Azteca knew it was handball… except for referee Ali Bin Nasser who gave the goal.
Four minutes later came the second moment for which Maradona will be forever remembered. Hoddle was fouled inside Argentina’s half but Nasser missed it, Argentina worked the ball to Maradona just inside his own half, who twisted his way past Beardsley and Peter Reid and began his run with Reid and Hodge unable to close, he pivoted away from Butcher then Fenwick and rounded Shilton for the best individual goal in World Cup history.
Robson went for broke bringing on wingers Chris Waddle and John Barnes. England were getting on top as Argentina tired with Hoddle forcing a fine stop from Pumpido. The pressure told with Barnes skipping around two defenders to cross and Lineker on hand to nod in with nine minutes to play. Maradona had time to launch one more attack and found Valdano who hit the post. With three minutes left Barnes again broke free on the left and crossed, Lineker looked set to pounce but with two defenders for company couldn’t direct the ball in and Argentina were through.
In the post match press conferences Robson raged at the handball, meanwhile Maradona described it as “A little with the head of Maradona, a little with the hand of God.” Lineker meanwhile had the consolation of winning the Golden Boot.
The final quarter-final saw surprise packages Spain and Belgium clash in Puebla. Belgium had been steadily improving through the tournament whilst Munoz was forced into defensive changes for Spain. On 35 minutes Vercauteren retrieved a ball on the left and crossed for the unmarked Ceulemans to head in for 1-0. Spain were the better side in the second half but Belgium were always a threat on the counter, Veyt missing a glorious chance to put the game to bed. Spain were dominating and Belgium were almost undone by a quickly taken free-kick. Belgium were being pegged back, but just as it seemed they’d ridden out the storm Michel pulled back a free-kick to substitute Juan Senor who fired in and Spain were level with five minutes to play.
In Extra time Spain were in the ascendancy but couldn’t find a way past Pfaff, whilst Zubizarreta saved well from Georges Grun, it inevitably went to penalties. Both teams put away their first kicks, then Eloy’s shot was well saved by Pfaff. Spain stayed in the contest but Belgium kept their nerves and substitute Leo Van Der Elst put away their fifth kick for a 5-4 shoot out win.
West Germany faced France in a rematch of the epic ’82 semi final with all eyes on Schumacher and Patrick Battiston after the infamous foul in Seville. French goalkeeper Bats had been the hero of France’s win over Brazil, but he turned villain after nine minutes when he let Brehme’s free-kick squirm under his body to give West Germany the lead. France seemed jaded but should have levelled when Maxime Bossis had an open goal but blazed over the bar.
West Germany were holding France at bay, but Platini made a brilliant run into the box only for Schumacher to save. West Germany were compact but as the minutes ticked down it looked like karma would strike at the death when Battiston of all players found himself free to shoot, but he couldn’t dig a clean shot out and Schumacher saved. West Germany quickly countered and Voller lifted the ball over Bats and rolled into an empty net for 2-0. West Germany had almost completely unnoticed made it to another World Cup final.
Argentina were hot favorites in their semi-final against Belgium, all eyes firmly fixed on number ten. Argentina dominated the first half, Maradona going on another mazy run into the box, this time Gerets keeping him at bay. Maradona then hit a brilliant effort from range onto the crossbar, Valdano put in the rebound but this time the linesman spotted Valdano handling the ball and the goal was chalked off. Maradona then created the best chance of the half but Ricardo Guisti skewered his shot wide.
The deadlock was broken six minutes into the second half when Burruchaga played a ball in for Maradona who jabbed a shot between two defenders and the on-rushing Pfaff. Belgium almost produced an immediate response with Scifo heading over from a corner. On 63 minutes Maradona settled the game, picking up the ball in Belgium’s half, driving at a trio of defenders before moving to the left and arrowing a shot across goal for another sensational individual goal. Argentina were in the final.
West Germany were underdogs for the their fifth final. Beckenbauer had a plan to keep Maradona quiet, in a strange echo of his own past he deployed Matthaus to mark Maradona; just as he had done to Bobby Charlton 20 years earlier with the same downside of denying his own team their best player.
Maradona was closely marshalled and even got himself an early booking for dissent. Argentina took the lead on 23 minutes when Burruchaga floated a free-kick over Schumacher for Jose Luis Brown to head home. West Germany’s best chance of the half fell to Rummenigge, putting Berthold’s knock down over the bar from a tight angle. Maradona was seeing less of the ball but did get clear to play a one-two but Schumacher was quick to close down, it remained 1-0 at the break.
Beckenbauer brought on Voller to add some penetration, meanwhile with Maradona tightly marked there was more space for Valdano and Burruchaga and they combined on the break but couldn’t take a good chance. Maradona was dropping deeper to get the ball and on 56 minutes he found Hector Enrique who drove forward and found Valdano on the left who hit a shot across Schumacher for 2-0. Argentina were looking for the killer third, but couldn’t finish West Germany off. On 74 minutes Brehme’s corner was flicked by Voller and Rummenigge was perfectly placed to stab in; 2-1. Six minutes later another Brehme corner was flicked back into the box and Voller was there again, burying a header for 2-2. From nowhere West Germany were level and looking the more likely. But just three minutes later Maradona found just enough space in his own half to play a throughball for the onrushing Burruchaga who sprung the offside trap and coolly rolled the ball past Schumacher, Argentina were champions.
Mexico ’86 will always be Maradona’s tournament, his performances against Uruguay, England and Belgium dragging Argentina to the final, yet when he got there it was his teammates that delivered the World Cup. Maradona’s career will always be remembered for those four minutes against England, as French newspaper Le’ Equipe aptly summarized he was ‘Half Angel, Half Devil.’ There were other brilliant stars who shone in Mexico, Laudrup, Platini, Carcea, Lineker and Butragueno to name a few but none burned as brightly as Maradona. He didn’t quite win it alone, but nobody has ever come closer to doing so.
Team of the Tournament (Unofficial): Schumacher (West Germany)- Josimar (Brazil), Quirarte (Mexico), Brown (Argentina), Brehme (West Germany)- Tigana (France), Platini (France), Scifo (Belgium)- Maradona (Argentina)- Elkjaer (Denmark), Lineker (England)