Diego Maradona died on the 25th November 2020, suffering several health problems in his later years. Although his legacy will always be overshadowed by the failed drug test at the 1994 World Cup, and his mixed performances as a coach, Maradona was perhaps the best exponent of dribbling that the football world has ever seen. While his greatest games are well-known to most, it is some of his lesser-known performances which show just how consistently good Maradona was for a period spanning the whole of the 1980’s. Here are 5 of Maradona‘s best games which you probably didn’t know about.
Argentinos Juniors v Boca Juniors, 1980, Campeonato Nacional
Maradona was famously a Boca Juniors fan as a child and would go on to play with the blue-and-yellows from 1980 to 1982. Before he did so, he put 4 past them while playing for Argentinos Juniors at the tender age of 18. These goals included a Panenka-esque penalty, a free kick from an outrageously tight angle out on the right touchline, an insolent chest-down and chip with the outside of the boot, and another perfect free kick. The Boca goalkeeper had described Maradona as an ‘overhyped little fatty’ before the game. They later became close friends, but this would not be the first time that Diego proved his doubters wrong.
Napoli v Lazio, 1985, Serie A
After leaving Boca for Europe, Maradona had an unhappy 2-year spell at Barcelona, before switching to Italian giants Napoli for a then-world record transfer fee. He immediately felt at home on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, scoring goals for fun in his first season in the notoriously low-scoring Serie A. This rich goal-scoring form culminated in a hat-trick against Lazio in Naples. The first showed his consummate goal-poaching abilities in the six-yard box, reacting fastest to a loose header from the opposing defence. The second also came as a result of a defensive mistake, but this time Maradona reacted by chipping the goalie from well outside the box, landing on his behind as he did so, showing amazing technique and awareness of where the goal was located. And the third? That came direct from one of his trademark in-swinging corner kicks. As well as these incredible goals, Maradona treated the watching world to a feast of overhead-kicked crosses, flicks, keepy-ups, and dribbles. There was no longer any doubt that he was back in business.
Argentina v Bulgaria, 1986, World Cup
We all know by now how Maradona single-handedly won the 1986 World Cup. There was the goal of the century (and hand of God) against England in the last eight, his slalom run through the Belgian defence in the semis, and a delicious assist for Burruchaga to score the winner against West Germany in the final. But the group game against Bulgaria showed just how critical Maradona was to this decidedly average Argentina squad. While the hapless Bulgarians gifted Valdano the first goal, the remaining 85 minutes were dominated by Maradona’s dribbling skills and incredible passing range. Valdano’s second – supplied by Maradona’s sublime reverse pass - was ruled offside, but Argentina’s No. 10 made sure of the points with lung-bursting run and pinpoint cross for Burruchaga to head home from 6 yards out. This was the game that installed Argentina as new favourites to win the World Cup.
Napoli v Juventus, 1990, Serie A
Napoli’s second scudetto title saw them hold off the challenge of the wonderful Milan team of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Gullit, van Basten, Rijkaard, et al were in the middle of back-to-back successful European Cup campaigns and were widely recognized as the best team in the world. When they thrashed the Neapolitans 3-0 in the middle of February, it looked like the title was headed to the San Siro. However, Maradona had other ideas and Napoli finished the season the stronger side, winning their last 5 matches to edge past the Milanese. The catalyst for this stunning resurgence was a 3-1 win over Juventus, with Maradona producing a virtuoso performance – as well as two goals. The first of them showed his stunning reflexes, poking home a rebound in the penalty box, and the second was a free kick, blasted into the top corner from 30 yards out. Due to Juventus’s cynical fouling, Maradona was forced to limp off in the second half, but by then his work was complete, and the title was headed to Naples.
Brazil v Argentina, 1990, World Cup Round of 16
By the time the 1990 World Cup came around, the defending champions had a significantly weaker squad than they could count on in Mexico. Valdano’s retirement and Pumpido’s injury in the opening loss against Cameroon meant an even greater reliance on Maradona’s talents. And yet, he somehow dragged his team to the final – this time losing to a now united Germany – showing moments of breath-taking skill and sheer bloody-mindedness. The Second Round against Brazil was the best example of both of these attributes. Hot favourites on the sports betting markets at the time, the Brazilians peppered the Argentinian goal with shots for over an hour, including hitting the post three times. The Albiceleste somehow hung on, and with 10 minutes left on the clock, Maradona did what he does best, picking the ball up in the centre circle, and embarking on a dribbling run at the heart of the Brazilian defence. Four yellow shirts were instantly upon him, attracted like moths to Maradona’s flame. Unfortunately for Brazil, that left acres of space for Caniggia to receive a defence splitting pass from the mercurial Number 10. The blonde striker slotted home past Taffarel and sent the Brazilians back home to Rio.
RIP Maradona – will we ever see his like again?
Diego Armando Maradona was a true great of football. Watching footage of his performances in the 80’s and early 90’s showed just how closely he was marked, with 4, 5 and even 6 defenders sometimes converging on him as soon as he took possession of the ball. And yet, he still managed to wriggle his way through, before releasing a killer pass for his teammates, or scoring himself. With Diego now gone to the great football field in the sky, we hope and pray for a new God of dribbling.