First ‘World Cup’ of ‘God of Football’
Peter Leslie Shilton was standing in front of the English's goal post, ignoring the ear cracking scream of millions of spectators at the Estadio Azteca stadium in Mexico. He digested first goal in the 51st minute of the second half. Even though there was no mistake from his side. He came forward at the right time and could have blocked the ball if that goal was from a header. But it was not even in Shilton's imagination that Maradona would push his self-made goal opportunity with his hand and score an incredible goal. Currently he is eyeing at Gary Lineker. If anyone can score a goal for England today, then he will be the only one. The boy is in great form in this season.
When Shilton is counting his mistakes after digesting one goal, ‘Maradona’ named storm came again! From the hard marking of Peter Beardsley and Peter Reed, Maradona came out with a little twist! He gently pushed the ball in the empty space in front of him! Maradona was running at a fast pace with the ball on the sideline. Fenuick and Butcher stepped forward to stop his pace. But it was looking like, the short man wearing the number 10 jersey were flying with the ball. After failing in this mission, the two defenders started running after him and meanwhile Shilton also came forward making a tangle so that he can stop the ball. But it seemed that Maradona have landed on this 40-yard field with ‘God's blessing'. He passed seven people and came running at a fast pace. Maintaining that very momentum, he overtook Shilton also. Then the English goal post was found by the measured shot of his left foot.
But today's story is not about a flesh-and-blood man becoming a god. We will be going back to Argentina in 1978 today. The 17-year-old young Maradona was returning home after his training for the ‘Argentinos Juniors'. As soon as he remembered, the Argentine coach will announce the team for the World Cup that day, his hands and feet started to get cold. He was only 17 years old by then; But what's in age? watching the magic he has already shown for the club over the last two years, there should be no reason to ignore him from the national team. After returning home, he turned the radio on and sat down. The excitement grew when his family surrounded him.
At that time his family used to live in a very small house in a slum of Buenos Aires. It was quite difficult to survive in the slums as there was terrible smell of sewage. The roof of the house was very fragile. Every day it used to feel like the roof would shatter at any time. But Diego's family somehow managed to live there. Football was the only way by which the boys of these families could escape from poverty. Maradona also chose football. One of his cousins gave him a leather ball as a gift when he was very small. Every night he used to wrap that ball around his chest and sleep. His mother used to believe that Maradona was not just an ordinary teenager, he had the talent to shake the whole world. That very hope of his mother was the driving force which made Maradona reach the doorstep of playing football for the country. That’s why today is a special day for both him and his family.
While 17-year-old Maradona was eagerly listening to the radio, with a hope of his dream coming true, Cesar Luis Menotti was walking anxiously with a cigarette in his hand at the Argentine Football Association's headquarters. He was the coach of the Argentina national team then and was going to announce the team shortly for the World Cup. He was worried regarding the announcement of the final team selection. That time the World Cup was at their home venue. So quiet obviously the pressure was much higher than other times. Under such pressure he has made an uneven decision. He has decided not to include Maradona in the final team, who has been playing well for the last two years in the team. The reason he thought was that, the 17-year-old Maradona will not be able to take the stress of this World Cup. Another reason was that, the number of experienced players he had, was not less. Even he wanted to go to this World Cup with these experienced players.
Menotti was a very tough man, he didn’t used to listen to people, he would do what he understands. At the press conference, he announced the final team with a sad face. As there wasn't the name of the 'Wonder boy' Maradona. Rumors started to spread all around. But Menotti did not paid heed to them, after answering a few questions he left the press conference room.
Menotti has never been criticized for his decision. Even though Maradona wasn’t in the team, Menotti took Ubaldo Filo, Oscar Ortiz, Alberto Tarantini, Miguel Oviedo, Daniel Bartoni, Mario Kempes and Daniel Passarella to the world cup. Luckily Menotti's disciples kept the World Cup at home by winning it in the finals. Argentina won the World Cup at home for the first time by beating Holland 3-1 with the magic of ‘Kempes’.
Maradona watched Argentina's triumph in the World cup sitting at home. We don't have any idea about what was going on in his mind at that moment. However, after losing the opportunity of playing in the World Cup in ’78, he kept a close eye on the next World Cup. The following year, at the World Youth Championship Maradona showed left-handed magic to the world. Menotti was watching the game by sitting in the dugout and he was quite surprised to see his game. Maradona became a complete player for the upcoming World Cup of '82. Until that time, he used to play for ‘Boca Juniors’. During the World Cup, he moved to ‘Barcelona’ with a record fee of 5 million euros. Many of the players from the winning team of World Cup ’78 got a place in the world cup team of ’82. Philol remained as the goalkeeper in the team this time also as he was a hopeful opportunity. In addition to him Kempes, Passarella, Bartoni, Tarantino, 26-year-old Valdano and 21-year-old Maradona also got a chance in the final team.
That year Spain hosted the World Cup at their home. Maradona’s contract has already been signed with Spanish football club Barcelona before the start of the World Cup. In this way the Catalan fans also got a chance to know more details about their new players of the team in advance. Witnessing such situation, Maradona became desperate to prove himself on the Spanish field.
His first ever world cup match was against Belgium. That match was held at ‘Camp Nou’. Maradona had an excellent opportunity to present himself to the new home field. But as a misfortune, Argentina lost by 1-0 in the first match. Throughout the match Maradona couldn’t express himself and remained as his shadow. The number of older players in Argentina's squad for the World Cup was very high. Most of them were at the edge of their football careers. So, it was quite predictable that they wouldn’t be able to make such an impact on the field. Those who were younger, were very immature. So, from the very first match, the Albiceleste suffered from a lack of combination of experience and young players to play on the World Cup stage.
After such a sad performance in the first match by the whole team including Maradona, the Brazilian legend Zico fired an arrow of criticism at Maradona. But talented Maradona responded to his destructive criticism in the next match by scoring two goals and helping the 4-1 victory over Hungary.
Their next match was lined up against ‘El Salvador’. In the first match of the World Cup in which Belgium won against Argentina, Belgium introduced the policy of "Stop Maradona and Argentina will get stuck". El Salvador also followed the same track. Their team started the World Cup journey in Spain by losing to Hungary by 10 goals. After such a poor performance they started playing in an extra defensive manner. With Argentina, as usual, they started to play with the same tactics. Maradona was kind of held captivated throughout the match. However, Argentina got the signal to play the next round after Bartoni's goal in the 52nd minute after a goal from Passarella from the penalty spot. But during the whole match, Argentina's number ten had remained as his shadow. He could not help Argentina in this match except to go on the verge of scoring the only great free kick in the match. So even if his team reached the next round, Maradona also had to do something for the team.
Argentina was in Group C for the second stage or quarter finals. Menotti's team will play against Italy and Brazil in the quarter finals. The first match was against the Azzurri. On tactics basis, they used to play complete opposite style football from Argentina. However, Italy’s coach Enzo Bierjot also followed Belgium's footsteps regarding this match. Juventus defender Claudio Gentile was handed with the task of keeping Maradona at a hard mark. Gentile remained attached to Maradona throughout the match. Not much passes came from his teammates to him. Whatever he got; the violent defender became a problem. In that match, Argentina lost by 2-1. River Plate striker Ramon Diaz scored the only goal for Argentina in that match.
Many years after that match, Claudio Gentile confessed in an interview that,
I have been watching Maradona for two days in a row. I was trying to find out what strategy can be used to stop him in the match by watching the video of his game. In the match, I tactfully marked him so that he would not get a pass from his teammates. Because, if he gets a pass in a convenient place then he will be the cause of our problem.
In that match, he kept on committing foul so that he can snatch the ball from the feet of Maradona. But the referee of the game was ignoring the fouls one by one continuously. However Mexican referee Mario Ruben Vasquez showed him a yellow card for a dangerous foul in the 35th minute of the match.
After losing the first match Menotti's team's stress was like a huge mountain. They will have to win at any cost in the second match which was against Brazil. But it became clear within 11 minutes of the starting of the match that, the fortune was not in Argentina's favor in that match. From the first minute of the match, Brazil started childish playing with Argentina as usual. Maradona already had a great duality with Zico then. That very player Ziko scored the first goal of the match in the 11th minute. In the 66th minute, Serginho and in the 78th minute, Selecao defender Jr. hammered the last nail in the coffin of Argentina's losing match.
But Maradona tried with his all during the whole match. At last he suffered from despair and fatigue. In the 85th minute of the match, when Brazilian midfielder Joao Batista came in front of him in the process of snatching the ball, irritated Maradona kicked in his chest. As a result, Maradona had to leave the field after seeing a red card. Defender Tarantino, confronted him as he walked to the edge of the sidelines, wiping his face in frustration. He pulled Maradona down on his chest and kissed him on the forehead.
But even this couldn’t change the mental state of Maradona. He left the field with a frustrated and annoyed face. Did anyone at the Sarrià Stadium in Spain could ever think that Maradona, who had just said goodbye, would lift a golden trophy in the skies of Mexico four years later?