Diego Maradona RIP

Italia '90 World Cup was the start of my life-long passion for football, and Argentina came into the tournament as defending champions and favourites. They dramatically lost the first game against Cameroon 0-1 and discovered their mojo in Naples, a city where Diego Maradona had taken its team Napoli to the summit of Italian Serie A single-handedly by winning the scudetto twice and a UEFA trophy. There they beat USSR with Maradona saving a goal-bound shot with his hands and got away with it, again! They became the favourites when they beat Brazil with Maradona taking them head-on and played hosts Italy in Naples of all cities in the semi-finals. Result was pre-destined especially if it was to be decided on penalties. Finals against Germany was a bit of an anti-climax as injuries and suspensions had robbed Argentina of Claudio Cannigia amongst others, lost by a penalty to Germany led by Lothar Matthaus who by 1990 had become perhaps the finest sweeper transitioning from box-to-box player being compatible with his age.


Visit to Napoli in 2013 made them my favourite team from Serie A. Most striking feature of the visit was the mural near a church that depicted Maradona more than two decades after he left them. While still on loan at Boca Juniors he was tempted by the prospect of playing in England where his senior teammate and 1978 World Cup winner Ossie Ardiles played at Tottenham Hotspur. Maradona was being linked with Arsenal and he claimed to have watched the 1979 FA Cup final which Arsenal won 3-2 over Manchester United. Those links never materialized and instead he headed to Barcelona where he was joined by his former Argentina coach Cesar Luis Menotti.

Manchester United made it to the quarter-finals of 1984 Cup Winners Cup their first in a European competition after a 15 year gap and faced Barcelona for the first time in a competitive fixture. Ron Atkinson's team always played attacking football in the United way that delighted the fans and this fixture wasn't going to change that. 19 year old Graeme Hogg made his European debut in the first game at Nou Camp and scored an own goal. Captain Bryan Robson was clear on goal yet uncharacteristically didn't score and missed another chance. Big Ron asked everyone to not dwell on mistakes. Maradona was not very effective and had to be substituted. Late on they scored a goal to lead 2-0. Bryan Robson wrote an apology to fans and everyone trained hard, winning two league games before the second leg to go top of the league which gave them and fans lot of hope.

Bryan Robson played the match of his life to make amends for the 1st leg by scoring two goals while dictating play box-to-box aided by his partners in midfield Ray Wilkins, Arnold Muhren and Remi Moses. Graeme Hogg marked Diego Maradona effectively to nullify any threat. Frank Stapleton scored the winner and for last 35 minutes United were able to soak any late threat to hold on to the lead and win 3-2 overall. Fans played a big part in the match, amplifying every United attack. Official figures are of 58,547 to have attended the match but actually felt like over 70,000 who crowded the pitch in joy after the final whistle, lifting their skipper Bryan Robson in adulation. Robson was also the England captain under his name-sake manager the great Sir Bobby Robson. Injuries and suspensions to Robson, Wilkins and Muhren meant United lost to Michel Platini led Juventus 3-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals amid talks between Robson and Italian giants which never progressed due to 3 million asking price.



England got off to a poor start in the 1986 World Cup losing their opening game to Portugal and then drew 0-0 with Morocco where Bryan Robson dislocated his shoulder when opposing player pulled him in the penalty box. So concerned were the England players that they tended to their skipper and not at the referee to award the penalty! Bobby Robson asked him to be around the England team and not fly back to be operated upon. This later impacted the start of United season which unfortunately led to the sacking of Ron Atkinson. He missed the next two matches which England won by 3 goal margin including a hat-trick for Gary Lineker and faced Argentina with confidence in quarter-finals. Outcome might have been different with Bryan Robson in the side. Though 'hand of God' goal gets more attention but its the other goal that Maradona scored against England taking on players from the right of midfield through to the defense to score past Peter Shilton from his brilliant left-foot the greatest World Cup goal of all time dubbed 'Goal of the Century'. Purists point to the team goal that Brazil scored against Italy in 1970 that encapsulates the dependency amongst every member of the team to be the rightful owner of that moniker.



To compare the greats is a thankless yet unavoidable task. To have managed to unite his national side and win the World Cup apart from club success will keep him above Lionel Messi, which the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson dispute. While Ronaldo will perhaps eclipse George Best by winning not only at club level but with Portugal, similarly Zinedine Zidane edges his compatriot Michel Platini. Johan Cruyff and Pele still seem unmatched head and shoulders above the rest. As South American teams have suffered a decline in the last 15 years many argue is international football still relevant? It certainly adds a different dimension in the ability to bond with another set of players to win the quadrennial event amidst nationalist sentiments and tremendous pressure that it naturally entails, unlike the often serene and contained surroundings of the club football.

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