On the morning of September 26, 1979, exactly 41 years ago, the attention of most Nigerians was on the Supreme Court as they waited anxiously for its verdict on the post-election litigation between Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).
The famous Ibadan lawyer, Richard Akinjide, who was Shagari’s counsel argued before the Supreme Court justices and convinced them that the two-thirds of 19 states (the total number of states in Nigeria at that time) was ”12 two-thirds”, and not 13. The Supreme Court upheld his argument and ruled in favour of Shagari.
Argentina had qualified for the quarter-final unbeaten in all group stage matches. They may have been crushed in the war four years earlier, but they went into the quarter-final against England as an indomitable nation. The English team finished second in their group to book a place in the Round of 16 where they saw off Paraguay.
25-year-old Diego Maradona, a left-footed forward who had just signed a record-breaking £6.9 million transfer deal with Napoli from Barcelona in 1984, captained the Argentine team while the English team was captained by goalkeeper Peter Shilton.
Tensions were high. It was billed to be one of the fiercest football matches in the history of the World Cup, and it turned out to be. Each team wanted to make history. The first half ended in a drought with the two nations failing to find the back of the net.
History was made in the second half when Maradona rose to head the ball in England’s penalty area and then punched the ball past Shilton who was rushing towards him to clear the ball.
Apart from the England players who protested against the goal and started appealing to referee Ali Bin Nasser of Tunisia, none of the officials reportedly spotted the hand ball in such a crucial match.
Maradona went into a wild jubilation, apparently to distract the officials and convince them it was a goal. His tactic worked.
In an interview, he said “I was waiting for my teammates to embrace me, and no one came…I told them, ‘come hug me, or the referee isn’t going to allow it.’”
In a 2001 interview with the Argentinian newspaper Olé, the referee, Bin Nasser claimed he based his judgement on his assistant’s decision.
“After Maradona scored I hesitated for a moment, but then I saw Dotchev running towards the centre of the pitch. And because he was better placed than me I decided to trust his judgment. No matter what happened I still think I had a good game,” Bin Nasser said.
A few minutes later, he doubled the lead with a goal that has been described as one of the best in the history of the World Cup. England was only able to respond with a goal. The match ended 2-1.
|Argentina would later beat West Germany in the final to win the 1986 World Cup. The tournament remains the most memorable international competition in Maradona’s life.|
The German press agency DPA called the first goal, when the Argentinian touched the ball with his hand “the scandal of the century” and dubbed the second one as “the goal of the century”In a documentary, ‘Diego Maradona – Rebel, Hero, Hustler, God’, the football star who sealed his place as Argentina’s football legend with the 1986 World Cup, admitted that he punched the ball into the net with his fist, “I knew it was my hand. It wasn’t my plan but the action happened so fast that the linesman didn’t see me putting my hand in. The referee looked at me and he said: ‘Goal.’He claimed it was his way of avenging the 1982 war between the British and Argentina. “The goal was scored a little bit by the hand of God, a little by the head of Maradona.”“It was a nice feeling like some sort of symbolic revenge against the English,” Maradona said. “We, as Argentinians, didn’t know what the military was up to. They told us that we were winning the war.
But in reality, England was winning 20-0. It was tough.“The hype made it seem like we were going to play out another war.”According to the UK Guardian, after the game in Mexico City the Tunisian referee cited a haemorrhoid treatment that, apparently, affected his sight, as the excuse for missing the handball. Neither the referee nor his assistant was involved in another World Cup match.