- Diego Maradona celebrates his 60th birthday today
- We pay tribute with video footage and stats
- He was directly involved in ten of 13 Argentina goals at one tournament
Diego Maradona was just nine when he told a television reporter that his biggest wish was to play at a FIFA World Cup™. Those black-and-white images, from a curly-haired kid who wooed viewers with his incredible ball skills, would reverberate throughout his career and mark a before and after with the Argentina national team.
FIFA.com pays tribute to Maradona by looking back at some of his most inspirational moments of his international career.
From debut to first disappointment
Maradona was already a teen sensation with Argentinos Juniors when he made his Albiceleste debut in February 1977 in a friendly against Hungary at La Bombonera, one of the stadiums that would also witness his heroics at club level.
‘El Pelusa’ became, at 16 years and 130 days, the youngest player to represent Argentina – a record which still remains.
Maradona came on in place of Leopoldo Luque and, while he failed to score in the 5-1 win, he managed to demonstrate his undoubted quality, just as he did in subsequent preparation games for Argentina 1978. However, it proved insufficient to earn him a place in the squad that would go on to win the title on home soil, providing the first major disappointment of his bourgeoning career.
“When I was omitted from the squad for ‘being too young’, I began to realise that my anger could be a fuel for me,” he would later say.
‘El Pibe de Oro’ conquers Japan
Under the stewardship of Cesar Menotti, the same coach who had left him out of the squad for Argentina 1978, Maradona proved his worth by leading La Albiceleste to the title at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Japan 1979™.
His dazzling performance, a foretaste of what would happen seven years later in Mexico, earned him the adidas Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.
His six goals secured him the adidas Silver Boot as second-best scorer. Notably, he found the net once in the quarters, semis and final, underlining his ability to produce on the big occasion.
The frustration that carried over from Spain 1982, when his World Cup ended with a red card in the defeat to Brazil, only fuelled Maradona’s desire to make amends at Mexico 1986. With Carlos Bilardo at the helm, ‘El Diez’ produced one of the most impactful individual performances in the history of the World Cup and contributed enormously to Argentina’s title.
His goals against England in the quarter-finals are now part of footballing lore. For the first, he converted with his hand without the referee noticing, famously claiming afterwards that it had been “with the hand of God”.
The second, however, was one of the finest individual efforts of all time. “Cosmic kite, which planet did you come from?” shouted Uruguayan commentator Victor Hugo Morales in immortalising the goal.
With five goals and five assists, Maradona had a hand in ten of his side’s 13 strikes in Mexico, picking up the adidas Golden Ball as well as Silver Boot. And though he did not manage to score in the Final, he did provide the assist for the winning goal in the 3-2 victory.
Suffering, joy and tears…
Maradona and Argentina went into Italy 1990 with injury and form concerns and made very hard work of the group phase. Once again Maradona was instrumental, even preventing a goal with his arm against Soviet Union that went unpunished, as his side progressed to the Round of 16 as one of the best third-placed teams.
He followed his exquisite assist for Claudio Caniggia’s winner in the 1-0 defeat of Brazil with a missed penalty against Yugoslavia in the quarter-finals. But Maradona would make amends in the semi-final against Italy in Naples, where, ironically, he played his club football at the time. Inevitably, Maradona would score during the penalty shootout that denied the hosts a place in the Final of their World Cup.
“That was the penalty that caused me the most anguish in my life… But I was the one who knocked Italy out,” he later told FIFA TV. His tears on collecting his runners-up medal after losing the Final to Germany would forever seal his bond with generations of Argentina fans.