FIFA World Cup 1986: Controversy in England’s clash with Argentina that will never be forgotten – day 20

World Cup 1986 Day 20 Argentina England Spain Belgium

Day 20, 22nd June 1986

We’d already had some big games in this tournament. Argentina v Italy, France v Italy, France v Brazil. But this one was possibly the biggest of them all. It was as far as the supporters of both teams were concerned. England v Argentina. The two countries had been at war over the Falkland Islands going into the last World Cup. There’s little doubt that conflict affected the Argentine players more. They arrived in Spain believing things were going well for them in the South Atlantic. When they were exposed to news reports away from the grip of state control as they had been back home, they soon discovered the truth. Maradona came into that tournament as the most expensive player in the world. He’d just signed a deal to move to Barcelona after the World Cup. But he was possibly let down by an ageing squad, many of who had been part of the side which lifted the trophy four years before. They didn’t have quite as much to prove as he did. His tournament ended in disgrace after the Brazilians succeeded in provoking him into a foul which brought his early dismissal.

Four years later he was a changed man. Away from the glare of publicity of Barcelona, he had found a home at Napoli. He was loved, mobbed but not judged. His football during this competition had shown a freedom and expression he seemed incapable of producing in Spain. Around him he had a team of workers, willing runners and players hungry for success. What a difference.

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For England, this had been a journey which at one point looked impossible. They lost their opening match, they appeared devoid of ideas in their second. They lost their captain and one of their most experienced players. Yet in disaster, manager Bobby Robson had stumbled upon a formation which worked. The midfield and attack were now connected, there were willing runners too. With a midfield now able to contain their opponents, the fullbacks were free to attack. They had more movement up front now too. This certainly promised to be a classic. Everyone just hoped the heat of the midday sun wouldn’t sap the energy too much.


Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, 114,580

ARGENTINA (0) 2 (Maradona 51, 55)

ENGLAND (0) 1 (Lineker 81)

ARGENTINA: Pumpido; Brown, Cuciuffo, Ruggeri; Batista, Giusti, Olarticoechea, Enrique, Maradona; Burruchaga (Tapia), Valdano

ENGLAND: Shilton; Gary M Stevens, Butcher, Fenwick, Sansom; Steven (Barnes), Hoddle, Reid (Waddle), Hodge; Lineker, Beardsley

It is customary for managers to spend the group games fine-tuning their line-ups for the later stages. So it was a bit surprising to see Carlos Bilardo make the changes he did from the side which knocked Uruguay out in the Second Round.

One was forced on him. Julio Olarticoechea had made substitute appearances in every game so far, and he replaced the suspended Oscar Garré.

Pedro Pasculli was left out as Bilardo looked to improve his midfield believing that was the way to stop a rejuvenated England team. Henri Enrique came in for just his third cap and his first start in a World Cup match.

Bobby Robson reverted to Terry Fenwick in defence in place of Alvin Martin, after the QPR man was suspended for the Paraguay game. But he resisted the option of bringing Ray Wilkins back into the team. Wilkins was sent-off against Morocco and suspended for the next two matches. He was now available for this one but Robson chose to continue with Steve Hodge and Peter Reid to counter the threat of Maradona.

Wilkins, then playing his football in Italy with Milan, would’ve been a fascinating prospect lining up against Maradona.

The opening exchanges were tense with both sides trying to work each other out. Fenwick was booked early on for a rash lunge at Maradona. It followed a strong challenge on Reid which exacerbated the ankle injury he appeared to be carrying.

England had a half-chance when Pumpido slipped and lost control of the ball on the left of his area. Beardsley was quickly in but his shot on the turn hit the side netting.

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There was little doubt England were wary of the threat from the Argentines as they defended deeper. Much of the game, though was battled out in midfield.

Maradona had been involved in a lot of Argentina’s play but often in the wide areas. On the half-hour, he suddenly burst into life. Picking the ball up in the centre circle, he glided past Hoddle then Fenwick. Hodge tracked him back and a little nudge in the back sent the Argentine captain to ground, about 20 yards out.

Maradona took the free-kick and curled it round the wall, but just wide.

Hoddle was struggling to get into the game and England began to give away possession far too easily. Giusti was tripped and for the second time in as many minutes, Maradona had a free-kick about 20 yards out. This one was more to the right but still a dangerous angle for him to curl one. He did but it hit the wall and went out for a corner.

Argentina were starting to make inroads. Maradona again picked up the ball in the centre circle and seeing the nearest England player to him was Hoddle, decided to go on a run as there was little danger of a challenge. He got all the way into the box, this time but he scuffed his shot and England cleared.

The first half came to a close with the game still goalless. Neither keeper had really been tested. Argentina were definitely the better side. England were yet to get into their stride and show the ambition and freedom of their previous two matches.

The second half began in much the same pattern as the first. England weren’t able to exploit the wide areas. The two strikers couldn’t link up and it was Argentina who were more effective coming forward.

Six minutes in and Maradona again just dribbled past Hoddle as if he wasn’t there, reached the edge of the area and laid it off to his right to Valdano. Hodge got in first and hooked the ball back towards Shilton. The cleverest player on the pitch had sensed this might happen and Maradona closed in on Shilton to wait for the ball to come down. As it did he punched it into the net.

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Several of the England players chased the referee protesting a handball. But Maradona’s sleight of hand was so well disguised none of the officials saw it. Maradona ran to the touchline encouraging his teammates to go with him before the officials discovered what had happened. He’d picked the pocket of the English and all of Argentina was proud of him. 1-0 to the South Americans.

As has been documented since. After a moment of skullduggery and illegality on the pitch for the first goal, within minutes Maradona produced a moment of pure magic and beauty.

England gave it away again in Argentina’s half as Hoddle’s pass was loose. Sansom had made a run from the back and Hoddle was looking to play him in. It was intercepted, and crucially Sansom never tracked back.

Two passes found Maradona facing his own goal. Two touches from him and he was away from Reid and Hodge. He was away and running at the defence at pace. He beat Butcher, he beat Fenwick and into the area he went round Shilton, shrugged off the challenge of Stevens and slid it into the net.

It was one of the greatest goals ever seen at a World Cup. 2-0.

The goal was so legendary it deserved a legendary line for a legendary commentator, Barry Davies:

“Oh you have to say that’s magnificent”, he crowed.

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Years later it would be revealed the goal was conjured up at Wembley back in 1980 when Maradona went on a similarly mazy run and put it past the keeper’s right-hand post and wide. His brother chastised him for not going for the left side. Six years later Maradona didn’t forget and he had his goal.

In just four minutes the game had completely changed. Two moments of genius from Maradona and England were sunk. But they still had 35 minutes to turn things around. They just needed to get control of the game and keep possession of the ball.

Lineker would reveal later his complete admiration of Maradona’s ability to dribble with the ball like he did on that pitch. The grass was made up of individual squares which moved when you put your foot on it. So how he managed to keep his balance & maintain control just added to the mystery and sheer brilliance of the goal.

England’s response to going behind was good, but then they had no choice. They had to take the game to the Argentinians. Beardsley had a couple of half chances but he was so well marked he couldn’t get a proper contact on the ball.

Robson brought on Chris Waddle for Peter Reid. Reid was kicked on his ankle by Batista, which earned the South American a yellow card. 10 minutes later he limped off. England had not had any joy in the wide areas all game, what would Waddle be able to bring?

With 20 minutes to go Hoddle was tripped and England had a free-kick about 25 yards out to the right of centre. Hoddle took it himself and bent it round the wall. Pumpido scrambled across his goal and pushed it out for a corner. It was the closest England had come. It was also the best contribution from Hoddle in the whole tournament.

With 15 minutes to go Robson made his second change. On came Watford’s John Barnes for his first appearance of the tournament. There was a time when Robson wanted England to play with two wide men. But that idea seemed to go out the window as time went on.

Barnes came on for Trevor Steven, who had been fairly anonymous in the match. Barnes went to the left-wing, Waddle moved to the right.

Bilardo also shuffled his pack and brought on Tapia for Burruchaga. He’d been less effective in the second half as Argentina were content to sit back.

England began to win a series of free-kicks, for which Hoddle now looked keen to be involved. He had a varied level of success from them.

With 10 minutes go the ball was bouncing around the Argentine area. The clearances fell to England players. After one, Sansom played the ball down the left to Hodge. He turned back and found a willing receiver in Barnes just on the left-hand edge of the area. He danced round Enrique then went past Giusti, getting to the bye-line. His cross was perfect for Lineker to head it in and England were back in it. 2-1.

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Why on earth Robson had left it so late to introduce Barnes to the World Cup was a mystery. But his influence was immediate. It was Lineker’s sixth goal of the tournament and he was now ahead in the race for the Golden Boot. It was also the first time anyone could remember hearing Lineker’s name mentioned since half-time.

Almost immediately, Argentina came back at England. Maradona with a couple of spin-turns played Tapia in. He cut inside and then from the edge of the area beat Shilton. But the ball bounced off the post and back out again.

With six minutes to go Fenwick was lucky not to be sent off. Valdano was clear, with just Fenwick to beat. He went round the England defender and was brought down. Fenwick had been booked very early on and surely should’ve received a second yellow for that challenge. But the referee chose not to. Maradona put the resulting free-kick wide.

There was now a real sense of urgency in England’s play. Waddle beat several players but ran into a wall. As Maradona took the ball forward, Hodge tracked him back and made a good tackle to regain possession. Beardsley came deep to retrieve it and immediately sent Barnes clear down the left.

He took it as far as he could then waited for Enrique to commit himself, then he skipped past him. He created the space for the cross and it was another lovely one to the back post. Lineker threw himself at the ball and thought he’d scored. But just as he thought he got his head to it, Giusti came round the back and headed it up and out for a corner. It was an unbelievable saving header, and again great work from Barnes.

It was England’s last effort. The final whistle blew and Argentina had won, what was to become, one of the most talked-about games of any World Cup. It wasn’t a classic like the France v Brazil the day before, but it certainly contained plenty to discuss.

Maradona was a hero in Buenos Aires and a cheat in London. He scored two amazing goals, one famous, one infamous. For England, it was the end of the road. They could reflect on reaching the stage they probably deserved to. After the start they made, it was nothing short of remarkable. But as so often happens for countries who lose, they were left to reflect on what might have been.

Argentina were now into the Semi-Finals. Who they were going to meet would become obvious next.

Estadio Cuauhtémoc, Puebla, 45,000

SPAIN (0) 1 (Señor 85)

BELGIUM (1) 1 (Ceulemans 35)


Spain: Señor, Eloy (saved), Chendo, Butragueño, Victor

Belgium: Claesen, Scifo, Broos, Vervoort, L Van der Elst

SPAIN: Zubizarreta; Tomás (Señor), Camacho, Gallego, Chendo, Victor; Calderé, Julio Alberto, Michel; Julio Salinas (Eloy), Butragueño

BELGIUM: Pfaff; Gerets, Renquin, Grün, Demol; Vervoort, Scifo, Vercauteren (L Van der Elst), Ceulemans; Veyt (Broos), Claesen

After the drama from the Azteca Stadium earlier, what would this one provide?

The two sides in this World Cup who’d scored six goals in a match, Denmark and USSR, were expected to meet at this stage. Yet Spain and Belgium deserved to be there, if only because their opponents contributed to their own downfall. The Spain v Denmark was an incredible game in that up until a few minutes before half-time Denmark looked unlikely to lose. Let alone 1-5. Belgium won a rip-roaring match that they too looked to be losing for much of it.

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Andoni Goikoetxea was injured so Miguel Muñoz chose to bring in Chendo. The Real Madrid defender had only made his debut in January when coming on as a substitute. This was only his second cap and his first start.

The two nations had only met once in a tournament, back in Euro ’80. On their way to the Final, Belgium won 2-1. Four Belgian players remained from that match, Pfaff, Gerets, Renquin and Ceulemans. None of the Spain team in this match were in the side back then.

From the kick-off, Spain were immediately on the attack. Butragueno tried one from about 25 yards out but it was straight at Zubizarreta.

About 15 minutes later he was at it again. Running at the Belgian defence down the right of the area, but his shot was just wide.

Scifo had a long-range attempt after a really poor pass from Chendo, but it went over.

Then with 10 minutes of the first half remaining, Belgium attacked down the right with Claesen. He played it back to Gerets whose cross beat everyone. Vercauteren picked it up down by the corner flag. He sent a cross back into the area and Ceulemans was completely unmarked. The tall Belgian captain had the simplest of headers to give Belgium the lead. 1-0.

Julio Salinas almost got in after a long kick downfield by Zubizarreta but Spain had gone quiet after a bright start.

Belgium went in at half-time still leading by that Ceulemans goal.

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They should’ve added to it early in the second period. A great counter-attack from a Spanish corner was led by Claesen. Ceulemans had headed it away in his own area and as Claesen came forward, he raced upfield to provide support. As two Spanish defenders converged on him, he played it inside to Ceulemans. He was unable to get a shot in, so played it to his right where Veyt came in. His shot was parried by Zubizarreta and went narrowly wide.

Spain had brought on Señor for Tomás at the break. He was soon involved in things. He played a good ball into the area where Michel got ahead of his marker. He brought the ball down but couldn’t get it past Pfaff who managed to bundle the ball away.

Spain soon had another good chance. Victor was fouled just outside the area. As the players were getting themselves organised, Spain took the free-kick quickly. It didn’t even look like the referee was ready, but play went on. Michel was in the area and knocked it across goal. Calderé came in at the back post and turned it back towards the penalty spot. Julio Alberto tried to get a shot in, but the Belgians managed to clear it.

Spain kept pressing. Michel made another run into the area and found Camacho to his left in support. Camacho’s ball across the goal was just knocked past his own post by Demol.

The attacks kept coming and Michel played a ball into the area from the right. It was easily cut out by Demol but his pass out of defence went straight to Victor. He shot but it was straight at Pfaff.

Michel and Butragueno combined to give Michel the opportunity for a shot on the left of the area. But again the Belgian keeper saved it comfortably.

Victor then played Butragueno in and this time Pfaff struggled to stop it. As it bounced beyond him, Demol thumped it to safety.

With five minutes to go Spain had a free-kick on the right-wing down by the corner flag. Instead of crossing it into the box where Spain had plenty of players, it was played back to Señor who was just outside the area. He hit it first time with his left foot, through a crowd of players, and finally Pfaff was beaten. 1-1.

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For the third time in the four Quarter-Finals, we had extra time.

The first real chance in extra time fell to Calderé. He pounced on a missed clearance, but his shot was well wide when only about 12 yards out.

A combination of tired legs and concerns about making mistakes meant there weren’t many chances in the further 30 minutes and now we had our third penalty shootout of the tournament.

Spain went first. Señor, who scored the equaliser late in the game, took the first one. He sent the keeper the wrong way as he put it to his right.

Belgium’s first taker was Claesen. He was the penalty taker for both club and country. Zubizarreta took a step forward and Claesen sent him the wrong way too.


Spain’s youngest player was next. 21-year-old Eloy stepped up. Pfaff tried to put him off by taking his time getting to his mark. It worked as he saved it quite easily. He took a step forward too, but the officials ignored that. Advantage Belgium.

Scifo for Belgium’s second kick. He fired it down the middle with Zubizarreta going to his left.

2-1 to Belgium from two penalties.

Chendo for Spain. He confidently placed it in the top right-hand corner.

Hugo Broos had come on as a late substitute. Now he had the responsibility of taking Belgium’s third kick. He too placed it into the bottom right-hand corner with the Spanish keeper going to his left.

3-2 to Belgium from three penalties.

Butragueño was up next for Spain. Pfaff immediately made him place the ball on the spot again. But it didn’t put the striker off and he went for the top-right corner, to level the score.

Vervoort was next. He was the first left-footed kicker, and he chose to go straight down the middle. Again Zubizarreta went left.

4-3 to Belgium from four penalties.

The fifth kicker for Spain was Victor. This really was pressure now as a miss would send Belgium through. He fired his very confidently into the right-hand corner and once again Pfaff guessed wrong.

That made it 4-4 but Leo Van der Elst, who was a substitute in extra time, had the chance to win it for Belgium.

He also chose to go down the middle. This time Zubizarreta went to his right but still missed it. Belgium had won 5-4. They were through to their first-ever World Cup Semi-Final.

Belgium’s reward would be a match against Argentina for a place in the Final.

The two Semi-Finals will be played on 25th June.

France v West Germany

Argentina v Belgium