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Maradona visits Tunisian referee who awarded him 1986 “Hand of God” goal

Argentinian soccer star calls official who oversaw World Cup match his “eternal friend”

Maradona with former World Cup referee Ali Bennaceur.
Maradona with former World Cup referee Ali Bennaceur.

Nearly 30 years after Diego Maradona’s controversial “Hand of God” goal helped Argentina defeat England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals, the soccer legend enjoyed a reencounter this weekend with the referee who allowed it to happen.

During a visit to Tunisia to record a series of commercials, 54-year-old Maradona stopped by to visit Ali Bennaceur, the referee who during the match failed to see him strike the ball with his hand and take it past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium.

It was only 10 years ago that the former Barça and Napoli player admitted punching the ball with his hand

“This weekend I visited Tunisia and I had an emotional reunion with Ali Bennaceur,” Maradona wrote on Facebook on Monday.

“I gave him an Argentina shirt and he gave me the picture of that game that hangs in his home. My dedication: ‘For Ali, my eternal friend.’”

Tensions were high during that World Cup quarterfinal, which took place just four years after Britain defeated Argentina in the Falklands War. Argentina, which has been claiming the South Atlantic archipelago since Britain took it in 1833, was also not long embarked on a new road to democracy.

Six minutes into the second half, Maradona struck the ball with his left fist, passing it over Shilton’s head.

Video: Maradona’s controversial “Hand of God” goal against England in 1986.

Bennacuer’s error in not spotting it gave the Argentineans a 1-0 lead, which England vehemently protested.

Four minutes later, Maradona went on to score what many consider the best goal in World Cup history after making a 60-meter sprint past five English outfielders before kicking the ball into the net and putting Argentina 2-0 up.

Gary Lineker got one back for England in the 81st minute, but it was not enough to prevent the Argentineans progressing to the semifinals and going on to win their second World Cup in the final against West Germany.

In later interviews, Bennaceur, now 71, blamed his Bulgarian assistant Bogdan Dotchev for failing to raise the flag at the moment when Maradona punched the ball past Shilton.

In later interviews, Bennaceur blamed his Bulgarian assistant for failing to raise the flag at that moment

“If you look at the match, you can see that one of the linesmen [Dotchev] was in a better position [than I was],” he told the sports magazine Olé in 2001. “I had my doubts, but when I saw that the linesman was running toward the center, I gave the goal because I was obliged to follow FIFA’s rules [saying the better-placed Dotchev’s decision should take precedence].”

At first, Maradona denied touching the ball, saying it had been the “hand of God.” Then 10 years ago on a television program in Argentina he hosted, the former Barça and Napoli player for the first time admitted punching the ball with his hand.

He explained that “from the beginning” he had planned on using his hands because his 1.66-meter height was no match for Shilton’s 1.85 meters. “There was no way I could make it pass him with a header,” he said.

Nevertheless, Maradona never regretted using his hand during that controversial but memorable match.

“To be truthful, I have never regretted scoring that goal with my hand and I even did something similar again during a match between Napoli and Udinese in the Italian league. Even the Brazilian Zico, who was playing for them, asked me if I thought it wasn’t right and I told him: ‘Not at all.’

“When I saw the linesman [Dotchev] running toward the middle of the pitch, I asked the guys to hug me since no one had come over to congratulate me, and to start a ruckus so they would count the goal. They were shy and came up to hug me as if they were saying, ‘but we are robbing this game from them.’

“I told them: ‘Those who steal from a thief are entitled to 100 years of forgiveness.’ The English had done a lot of things against us and we knew that those who we were facing were English.”

English version by Martin Delfin.

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