10 of Diego Maradona’s best moments: the greatest player of all time?

Diego Maradona, Napoli

Thirty years ago, an El Diego-led Napoli won their first ever Serie A title – just one highlight in a mercurial career for the diminutive dynamo

1. World Youth Championship, 1979

Considered too young for Carlos Menotti’s 1978 World Cup squad despite having made his debut in 1977, aged 16, Maradona duly went about terrorising poor saps his own age the following year in Japan.

Argentina won it, of course, thrashing Indonesia (5-0) and Poland (4-1) in the group stage (also edging out Yugoslavia 1-0), with Maradona helping himself to three of the goals. Algeria were hammered 5-0 in the quarter-finals, Uruguay seen off in the semis and then the Soviet Union too, 3-1 in the final. Maradona helped himself to a goal in each knockout game, rounding off the scoring in the final in a virtuoso display.  

Ramon Diaz may have won the Golden Shoe, but Maradona claimed the Golden Ball for being the tournament’s best player. Needless to say, he wasn’t considered too young for Argentina duty again.

2. Argentinos Juniors 5-3 Boca Juniors, 1980

Maradona was only 15 when he made his Argentinos Juniors debut in October 1976, and stayed with his first club for five years before making his dream move to Boca in 1981.

But not before he’d humbled them first. Four months earlier in the Campeonato Nacional, Maradona had stuck four goals past them in a 5-3 win, fuelled by Boca goalkeeper Hugo Gatti’s pre-match comments about “the little fatty”.

His first goal came from a penalty he’d won by rabona-ing the ball onto a Boca defender’s arm (of course). The second was a brilliant quick free-kick from a tight angle; the third a delightful stabbed chip with the outside of his foot after controlling a high ball on his chest. No.4 came from another free-kick also won by his brilliance; a one-two sent him clean through, only for Boca’s last man to hack him down on the edge of the box.

The wall was expecting a whip from Maradona’s trusty left peg, but instead he opened up to blast a side-footed beauty past an amusingly yellow-bespectacled Gatti. Not bad for a little fatty.

3. Argentina 2-1 England, 1986 World Cup Quarter-Final

It’s quite a testament to the diminutive genius’s second goal in this World Cup quarter-final that it only ever-so-slightly overshadowed his opener (y’know, that one he punched in for ever-lasting global infamy).

Peter Beardsley will surely have wished he’d chopped Maradona there and then after the Argentine had pirouetted past him in his own half. Perhaps the Geordie moptop could be forgiven, though, for thinking his team-mates could take care of the 5ft 5in danger dwarf with half a pitch left to do his damage in.

Jogging past a puffing Peter Reid proved unsurprisingly easy; more horrifying was the ease with which he made a mockery of hard man Terry Butcher with a simple skip inside. With his next touch, beautifully delayed, he took out a hapless Terry Fenwick, and then rounded Peter Shilton. Butcher’s sliding challenge was in vain: Maradona had scored one of football’s greatest-ever goals and Argentina were 2-0 up after 55 minutes. They’d win 2-1 to set up a semi-final meet with Belgium, in which El Diego plundered another brace.

4. Argentina 3-2 West Germany, 1986 World Cup Final

Having seen Maradona embarrass both England and Belgium, West Germany weren’t in any mood to be bossed around by him.

Franz Beckenbauer’s boys had hardly inspired en route to the final, though – they squeaked through the group behind Denmark, edged past Morocco, beat Mexico on penalties and then finally clicked into gear with a 2-0 win over France in the semis.

Beckenbauer instructed his troops to double up and go in hard on Argentina’s talisman, but that only opened up space for his team-mates to work in. Junior Brown and Jorge Valdano goals had Carlos Bilardo’s side 2-0 up after 55 minutes, but West Germany fought back to level with 10 minutes remaining via efforts from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Rudi Voller.

Step forward Diego. There was no obvious danger when he turned with a bouncing ball in the centre circle, not least with two green shirts bearing down on him fast. But with impeccable vision and a swish of that left boot, he played in Jorge Burruchaga to hare away down the right and jab home an 83rd-minute winner.