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The next time Maradona scored was June 22, the day Argentina played against England. The two nations had last clashed four years earlier, not on a soccer field but in the Falklands War, which Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges later compared to "a fight between two bald men over a comb." By the time Britain had retaken the islands from Argentina, more than 900 men (most of them Argentines) had lost their lives. The victory saw Margaret Thatcher's popularity soar in Britain; the defeat contributed to the downfall of the right-wing military junta that had ruled Argentina since 1976.

All that was ancient history four years later—or so both teams insisted before the game. Maradona scored both of Argentina's goals in a 2-1 victory over England. The second of them, 11 dazzling seconds of superhuman skill, was voted Goal of the Century in 2002. When Maradona executed an exquisite arabesque, stretching his right leg elegantly behind him, I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd taken off into the air and started flying. He appeared to be moving through a different time frame from the England players, who came to tackle him only once he was already past them.

To my surprise, nobody I knew wanted to talk about that second, extraordinary goal. All anyone wanted to talk about was the one he'd scored four minutes earlier, with his fist. Maradona's one-time fans were seething with fury, as if he'd betrayed them personally. Overnight his name had become an insult, a by-word for cheating. I was baffled. What became known as the Hand of God incident just didn't seem so bad to me; it still doesn't. For one thing, I find it impressive that Maradona, five feet five inches (164 centimeters) tall, should have beaten the goalie, who was nearly a foot taller, to the ball. And weren't the referee and linesman most at fault, for not spotting the foul and for allowing the goal? I've always suspected that high-minded censure of the Hand of God is a way of dressing up disappointment and frustration that England lost; that the behavior for which England fans will never be able to forgive Maradona is not his cheating, but his running around five England players like so many wooden posts to score the greatest goal that's ever been scored and knock England out of the World Cup.

Thomas Jones is an editor and writer at the London Review of Books.

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