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Back of the Net's alternative Mexico '86: half-hearted waves, moral victories and sweaty delirium

World Cup 1986 was held in Mexico, owing to the now-abandoned rule that at least one World Cup per decade should take place there. It is best remembered for the emergence of a thrilling Denmark side, the Mexican Wave, and Diego Maradona winning the trophy literally single-handedly.

Mexican Wave

A combination of the summer heat and high altitude meant a low-energy tournament, as many players succumbed to fatigue and delirium. During Morocco’s goalless draw with Poland, which saw a disoriented Zbigniew Boniek spend 80 minutes reciting his grandmother’s pierogi recipe, long-suffering spectators chose to recreate the excitement of watching a bedsheet fluttering on a washing line on a breezy day. The so-called ‘Mexican Wave’ proved highly contagious, and quickly spread around the world, much like swine flu.

Lesser UK nations fail to progress

Mexico ’86 was the last time that three home nations competed at the World Cup finals. Alongside England were Scotland and Northern Ireland, who took advantage of the fact that the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were yet to break up and flood UEFA with competent welterweights like Ukraine and Montenegro. But it was to be a tournament to forget for England's plucky neighbours.

Northern Ireland hoped to embarrass Spain with a barrage of bawdy anecdotes, but their Kerryman jokes had little effect on the Spanish, who ran out 2-1 winners. They then attempted to shock Brazil by taking to the field naked, but this tactic backfired in the noonday sun of Guadalajara, and the horribly sunburned Ulstermen were heading home.

Meanwhile, a cruel draw placed Scotland in Nezahualcóyotl, which their unfortunate players used up vital energy reserves attempting to pronounce. The exhausted Scots finished bottom of their group, which was won by a Danish team who were tipped for glory after beating West Germany. However, the Danes soon realised that it would be far more romantic to be knocked out by Spain in the second round, for heroic defeat is its own kind of victory, is it not?

England moral victors

Bobby Robson’s England limped through the group stages before seeing off Paraguay to set up a quarter-final clash with Argentina, led by poison dwarf Maradona. The pube-haired genius opened the scoring with a clearly illegal punch that he outrageously described as ‘the Hand of God’, despite England’s furious protests that God was and always had been English.

Maradona’s second, however, a mesmerising slalom through the English defence that saw him beat Terry Butcher twice, nutmeg Steve Hodge five times, and sleep with Terry Fenwick’s sister-in-law before slotting the ball past Peter Shilton, was widely acclaimed as the best goal ever scored. Its sheer brilliance saw Maradona universally forgiven for his earlier crime and embraced by England fans, who cheered him all the way to the final against West Germany. There, in front of 114,000 spectators, he inspired Argentina to a 3-2 victory, the winning goal scored by Jorge Chupacabra, a striker hitherto considered mythical by the scientific community.


To celebrate, Maradona went on a 20-year bender, while the humiliated Germans were forced to put off reunification for another four years. England, still smarting from their unjust elimination, determined that in the future they should either be eliminated on penalties, or before the tournament started. Mexico have so far managed to avoid hosting the World Cup again, and have instead pursued their national pastime of getting knocked out in the second round.

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