Was this the best World Cup ever? Speak to any football fan who was alive at the time and they would say yes.
The FIFA World Cup was hosted in Mexico for the second time in 1986. Played under the spotlight of the bright Mexican sun, the competition was chock-full of memorable moments, stunning goals, and surprise victories.
There is, however, an elephant in the room: the 1986 World Cup belongs to one man and one man only - Diego Maradona.
Whilst the widely-held belief that the then-25 year old won the competition on his own is not exactly true, there was not a chance that Argentina would have won the trophy without his presence in the squad.
Maradona’s performances in the competition have become so legendary that the 1986 World Cup has become known simply as ‘the Maradona World Cup.’ However, there is a lot more to unpack as we revisit the tournament more than 35 years later.
1986 World Cup Group Stage
The 1986 World Cup marked the first time that three teams from a group progressed to the next round. This was due to an expansion of the competition to 24 teams, however only 4 third-placed teams were eligible for progression.
Another new feature was the introduction of the last two group games being played at the same time. This was done to make games more exciting, and for the corresponding teams not to know other teams’ results.
1986 World Cup Iconic Games
Mexico hosted another legendary World Cup in 1970, and seems to have a knack for producing stellar football tournaments.
The ‘86 World Cup gave us football fans some unforgettable games, here were just a few:
Argentina 1 - 1 Italy
Reigning champions Italy took an early lead over Argentina in this group stage encounter, however Diego Maradona opened his account by scoring a 34th-minute equalizer.
This fiery encounter marked the only time Argentina failed to win a group stage game. Italy’s defence of their trophy got off to a lukewarm start, however they still qualified from the group along with Bulgaria.
Denmark 6 - 1 Uruguay
Two-time World Cup winners Uruguay were humbled at the hands of Denmark, who were playing at their first World Cup.
The Danes couldn’t have had tougher opposition in a group also featuring West Germany and Scotland, however, they defeated all of these teams and romped into the next round.
Argentina 2 -1 England
On 22 June 1986, Argentina and England played perhaps the most famous international football match ever.
The relationship between the two countries had become untenable, taking just four years after the Falklands War, and was a continuation of their fierce footballing rivalry.
Diego Maradona scored two of the most famous goals in World Cup history in this game - handling a lobbed ball over Peter Shilton in the 51st minute, before taking the ball past the whole English defence for his second just four minutes later.
The great Maradona would later claim that his first goal was scored with ‘the hand of God’. Gary Lineker scored his 6th goal of the tournament in the game, enough to win the Golden Boot, but it came too late to change England’s fortunes.
The game is often regarded as one of the best in football history.
Argentina 3 - 2 West Germany
West Germany reached another World Cup final and were booked to meet the Argentines on 29 June 1986 in Mexico City.
The West Germans had come up short in 1982 and were looking to join Brazil as the only nation to win three World Cups. The Argentines, buoyed by Maradona, were looking to match neigbours Uruguay for World Cup wins with two.
Though Maradona didn’t score, he was instrumental in a 3-2 victory for his country and assisted the winning goal by Jorge Burruchaga.
The World Cup was, once again, in possession of the Argentines, and the two teams would meet again in the 1990 final.
1986 World Cup Fun Facts
- Denmark finished 9th in this World Cup, winning 3 of their 4 games, an impressive feat considering it was the first the country had ever played in
- Colombia were originally selected as hosts, however, the political turmoil of the time forced FIFA into going with their 2nd choice, Mexico
- Mexico was the first country to hold the World Cup on two occasions (also hosted the 1970 edition)
- Uruguay progressed from the group stage despite not winning any of their games
- Paraguay’s Cayetano Re became the first coach to be sent off in a World Cup
- Diego Maradona covered 60 metres in 10 seconds en-route to scoring his second goal against England
- The players he dribbled past were: Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher, Terry Fenwick, Peter Shilton
- The two teams of the 1986 World Cup final would meet again in 1990 and 2014 - with Germany winning both games
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