Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ a vengeful war blow to British - As politics spilled on to football pitch, diplomats remember Falklands conflict
Argentine football star Diego Maradona cast his ‘Hand of God’ goal in the crucial 1986 World Cup play-off as a vengeful strike against England four years after the British crushed an invading force in a bitter war over the Falklands Islands.
The geopolitical strife over that conflict has ebbed more than three decades later, but diplomats here in Jamaica remain divided over which country ought to have the disputed islands in its grasp.
Maradona, 60, died on Wednesday after suffering a heart attack.
On Thursday, thousands filled the streets of Buenos Aires to pay homage to the football icon who also lived a troubled life.
Asif Ahmad, United Kingdom high commissioner to Jamaica, is insistent that the British will not cede control of the islands to Argentina, saying that the issue is “totally resolved”.
“The idea that Britain is somehow going to hand over the Falkland Islands to anybody else when everybody on the island wants to keep it as it is, that is how it will remain,” the high commissioner said in an interview with The Gleaner at the British High Commission in New Kingston on Thursday.
In his 2000 biography, Maradona, reflecting, on the controversial handball goal that helped Argentina defeat England in the quarterfinals in Mexico, said: “It was more than trying to win a game. We said the game had nothing to do with the war. But we knew that Argentines had died there, that they had killed them like birds. And this was our revenge. It was something bigger than us: We were defending our flag,” said Maradona in reference to Malvinas, the preferred Spanish name that Argentinians use for the disputed islands.
The British still have control of the islands, but there is lingering disagreement despite Falklanders voting to remain as a United Kingdom overseas territory.
However, Argentina’s ambassador to Jamaica, Luis Del Solar, still harbours hope that Malvinas will return to the mainland in the future.
“We don’t stop claiming for the islands, but through peaceful ways.
“We hope for that [reclaim the island], and we are working on that and, basically, through diplomatic means,” Del Solar said at his embassy in New Kingston.
Del Solar said that much of the ill will has receded over the decades, a sentiment confirmed by Ahmad.
“I think our relationship with Argentina has evolved. It has been on a far better footing, and we can see a different kind of narrative,” Ahmad said.
According to Del Solar, Maradona was arguably “the best” player the game has ever seen.
“For us, it was very important what he achieved in ‘86. He is seen as a sport hero, an icon,” he stated.
The UK high commissioner contends that Maradona’s entry on to the international football scene changed the nature of the game. His genius lay not only in his deft left foot but how he turned his short, stocky frame into a cannonball through the stoutest of defences.
Ahmad laments that the little magician never played in the English Premier League.
“What changed football fundamentally with Maradona is this: Prior to his coming to the fore as he did, football was largely seen as a game for big, muscular players. And in the UK, it was very much a physical sort of game – pretty much unsophisticated.
“The crosses would come into the box, and the giant would just head it in. Suddenly, you have players of his height, low-gravity players, who were really quite a handful to deal with,” Ahmad said of Maradona.
The mercurial dribbler who teased and terrorised opponents when he burst on to the scene in the early 1980s fell from football’s throne after years of drug abuse, weight issues, and scandals.
But despite his paradoxical career and character, Maradona still invoked adoration far beyond the shores of Argentina.
“No matter how old he was, he almost had a child-like enthusiasm for the game. He loved it, which is why people loved him,” Ahmad said.