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Diego Maradona: 1961(?)—: Athlete

The Infamous "hand Of God" Goal

Maradona's enshrinement as a national hero in Argentina came when he competed for its national team in the 1986 World Cup. In a quarterfinals match between Argentina and England, Maradona scored a goal that went into the net after his fist touched it—in prohibition of one of soccer's most steadfast rules. The judges failed to see it, however, and Maradona then scored the winning goal of the game by taking the ball single-handedly down 55 yards of the field, and faking out the English goaltender. Thus Argentina ousted England from the World Cup, and went on to beat West Germany in the finals.

At the time, Maradona claimed that it was not his fist but rather "the hand of God" that had made the first goal, and the loss was an especially bitter one for England. Four years earlier, Britain had gone to war with Argentina over the Malvinas, a group of islands off Argentina's coast and long a territorial possession of Britain known as the Falklands. Royal Navy battleships had steamed across the Atlantic in a show of force against Argentine claims to the islands. Maradona's goal was viewed as fitting revenge on Britain, and years later it still rankled for some soccer fans. Independent Sunday writer John Carlin called the athlete "the expression of the Argentine people as a whole, as the avenger of the nation's wounded pride. As the man who, with those two goals, gave the most refined expression to the two qualities which Argentines believe they possess in richest abundance, 'viveza' (a sly cunning) and talent."

Argentina's win in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico City—against a formidable West Germany team in the finals—launched massive celebrations in the streets ofBuenos Aires. He was tagged with yet another nickname, El Rey, or "the king." Back in Italy, he was also treated as a national hero; his face and winning No. 10 jersey were familiar images in the media and all over Naples. But Maradona, the highest-paid player in the sport at the time, often made boastful statements to the media, and he periodically ran afoul of Napoli's management for skipping training sessions. Rumors began to surface that claimed he used illegal drugs, and had links to the city's camorra, or organized-crime syndicate. Maradona was usually derided by sports journalists for letting himself get paunchy, or claiming that he had been threatened by the camorra, and a war with press was underway by 1990, the same year in which he led Napoli to its second national championship. "They can say what they want about me," he told People's Arias at the time. "Fine me, withhold my salary, but I won't change. Remember, it's the players who bring 90,000 people to the stadium. I am Maradona, who makes goals, who makes mistakes. I can take it all, I have shoulders big enough to fight with everybody."

Maradona's fall from grace was as spectacular as his rise from the Villa Fiorito slum. In February of 1991 he was charged with possession of cocaine in Naples. That spring, he tested positive for the drug, and was suspended from international play for 15 months. He returned to Buenos Aires, and was arrested in a police raid there on a suspected drug house. The Napoli team then filed suit against Maradona's managers, refusing to honor the remainder of contract because of the negative publicity. In 1992 Maradona played for a season with Seville's team in the Spanish League, and the following year joined an Argentine team, Newell's Old Boys. He began to exhibit increasingly erratic behavior: in February of 1994 he fired a pellet gun at group of reporters outside his home in Buenos Aires, injuring five. He disappeared for days at a time. That summer, he was banned once again from international play when he tested positive for drugs, which effectively barred him from the Argentine World Cup team. He was tried in absentia in Italy for drug possession, and in Buenos Aires, despite a wife and family, still maintained his fondness for nightclubs and parties.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Al Loving Biography - Loved Painting from Early Age to Alice McGill Biography - PersonalDiego Maradona: 1961(?)—: Athlete Biography - Child Soccer Star, The Infamous "hand Of God" Goal, National Folk Hero, "death Would Glorify Him"