||ESPNsoccernet: World Cup
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
ESPNsoccernet: May 2, 9:25 PM UK
World Cup 1986 - Hosts Mexico
A return to Mexico after just sixteen years looks a romantic choice at first glance.
In fact the return to Central America came as a result of original hosts Colombia's inability to meet the economic demands of staging 'the greatest show on earth'.
Mexico was itself a country in crisis after a earthquake had wreaked havoc and killed 25,000 people in 1985. But the country rallied to stage the tournament once again.
The tournament was to centre around one squat little man - Diego Armando Maradona, on a mission to bury the ghost of 1982 and a troubled spell at Barcelona.
From the first game Maradona was the mainstay of an Argentina side, without him functional and efficient but lacking in flair. Maradona provided flair in spades and a driven will to win. Scoring an excellent equaliser against off-colour holders Italy, he played a part in every Argentine goal in the first round.
The first round showers were the Danes, featuring the talents of Michael Laudup and Preben Elkjśr-Larsen . A 6-1 defeat of Uruguay saw odds on the Scandinavians winning the trophy tumble.
The bookies soon breathed easier as the Danes bizarrely capitulated 5-1 to Spain in the second round, with Emilio 'The Vulture' Butrageno scoring four.
Other first-round form teams to fail at the second round stage were the Soviet Union, in a dramatic 4-3 loss to Belgium, and Morocco, who had topped England's group and whom it took West Germany until three minutes from the end to beat in Monterrey.
Italy, a pallid shadow of the 1982 side, were dispatched with ease by the French. France, who had won the 1984 European Championships in some style, were again many romantics' choice for the championship. But an over-reliance on the goal power from midfield of Michel Platini would later prove problematic.
Brazil, themselves a shadow of their 1982 team but 4-0 conquerors of Poland, met the French in a titanic encounter in Guadalajara. The game ended 1-1 and was absolutely jam-packed with incident.
A challenge by Brazil goalkeeper Carlos on Bruno Bellone brought back painful memories of the Battiston-Schumacher incident four years before. At the other end, with his first kick of the ball, substitute Zico missed a penalty to win the game in normal time.
So it was penalties again for the French. This time their nerve held despite Platini inexplicably blazing his spot-kick over the bar. Keeper Joel Bats was the hero as he saved first Socrates' casual effort and then Julio Cesar's strike.
Luis Fernandez stroked home the decider and the French rejoiced. The time seemed right for revenge over the Germans, who had ousted the hosts in their own shoot-out.
Argentina's challenge was gathering pace. A functional win over Uruguay took them on to face England in the quarter-finals.
Bobby Robson's side, for whom Gary Lineker had hit a rich vein of scoring form (he would end up leading scorer with six goals), had beaten South American opposition in the second round in Paraguay, but Argentina were a far tougher proposition.
And so they would prove. Maradona's disputed first goal, for which there is no dispute that he had handled, was followed by an amazing 75-yard dribble past the entire England defence and goalkeeper Peter Shilton. It remains the best goal ever seen on the World Cup stage.
England though, rallied after the introduction of John Barnes, who provided a goal for Lineker. The pair almost repeated the trick but Lineker failed to direct his header goalwards. But despite the justified arguments over the legitimacy of Maradona's first goal there was little doubt about the best team winning.
Just to show that his second goal against hadn't been a fluke, Maradona twice repeated the trick in the semi-final against Belgium, surprise members of the last four after a shoot-out win over Spain.
The Belgians just couldn't hold the irrepressible Argentina skipper as he led his team into their second final in three World Cups.
There they faced West Germany, ever the party-poopers. France, broken by their toils in the quarter-final, failed to get their revenge. Bats soiled his heroic status by fumbling an Andreas Brehme free-kick early on and in the last minute, when France were pushing hard for an equalizer, Rudi Voeller scored a breakaway goal.
The final saw Maradona being marked hard by Lothar Matthaeus and reduced to a peripheral role for much of the game, which was a poor spectacle until its later stages.
Centre-back Jose Luis Brown had headed in Burruchaga's free-kick and when Real Madrid's Jorge Valdano stroked the ball past Schumacher all looked lost for the Germans.
But on came substitute strikers Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Dieter Hoeness, brother of 1974 hero Uli.
Rummenigge, who had suffered another injury-hit finals, bundled home a Voeller flick before Voeller himself headed in Thomas Berthold's flick with eight minutes to play. Argentina looked shaken but surely this had to be Maradona's tournament?
The little man certainly believed so. Two minutes later he ended a weaving run with a delicate through ball to Jorge Burruchaga. The youngster did the rest and Argentina claimed their second World Cup.
Maradona had realised his dream and though Argentina were far from a one-man team, no man has ever had such an influence on the destiny of a World Cup.