The first thing that usually comes to mind when thinking of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup winning team is Diego Maradona’s infamous Mano de Dios goal against England in the quarterfinals. The second thing is probably Maradona’s ridiculous solo goal in that same game. What doesn’t come to mind, is that Argentina was mostly trash heading into that World Cup and its own players didn’t really give themselves much of a chance to win it. Through interviews and old footage of interviews and games, the new documentary The Impossible Champion tells the story of how the Albicelestes overcame both internal and external turmoil and emerged as champions. The documentary is worth watching for Argentina fans, but also for anyone who loves soccer.
Here are five things we learned about Argentina’s unlikely World Cup win:
The Impossible Champion premieres on beIN Sports Sunday, October 2, at 9 p.m.
Everyone HATED manager Carlos Bilardo
A lot of fan bases hate their head coach, but the vitriol toward Bilardo can only be described as extra. The press criticised his every move, including his correct decision to name Maradona captain. Even politicians, some of the only people whose approval can drop below that of a struggling national team manager, scored easy points by hating on Bilardo. It got so bad that he had to change his daughter’s name to protect her from the heat he was getting. In an interview shown in the documentary, a reporter asked Bilardo, “Do you realize that if this thing doesn’t work out, the smallest tomato that they’re going to throw at you will be the size of a watermelon?” Luckily for him, it did.
Shortly before the World Cup, Argentina tied in a practice game against Club America’s youth team
Argentina didn’t impress in CONMEBOL qualifying on the road to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. In fact, it took a late equalizer from Ricardo Gareca against Peru in the last game of the group stage to clinch automatic qualification. The team also struggled in its preparation games. The low point had to have been a 3-3 draw against Club America’s youth team just a few days before the opening, in which Argentina trailed 3-0 at one point. Argentina couldn’t even do it fair and square. Bilardo took over as referee, and according to Ricardo Peláez, Bilardo extended the game until it eventually got dark. Things didn’t really click until the win over rival Uruguay, after which Ricardo Bochini said “The team has found itself, we’re the world champions.”
The referee explained his decision to allow the Hand of God goal
Fair play to Ali Bennaceur, because it can’t be easy to be the referee responsible for allowing one of the most controversial goals in soccer history. His explanation (blaming the assistant referee) might seem like passing the buck, but it makes perfect sense. “I thought my colleague had seen it because he was in a better position,” he said. “If he had somehow told me there were doubts about the score, I would have booked Maradona and rejected the goal, but he confirmed it was a goal, and I had to accept it.”
Referees often rely on the linesmen who have a different perspective from their position on the sideline. Unfortunately for England and goalkeeper Peter Shilton, the referees might have been the only people that day not to have seen the handball.
Maradona used the Falklands to motivate Argentina against England
Even as recently as 2014, the Argentine National Team hasn’t been afraid to address the Falkland Islands. Before a friendly against Slovenia, the team posed with a banner saying “Las Malvinas Son Argentinas.” Whenever England and Argentina play, there’s tension in the stands because of the 1982 war for control of the islands. In 1986, it was the main topic of questioning when the players spoke to the press. “I play football, I don’t talk about politics,” Maradona said. But right before the teams came out to the field, he did have something to say about the conflict to his teammates. “Let’s go, remember these guys killed I don’t know how many of our boys,” Maradona said, according to José Luis Brown. As you can imagine, Argentina came out hyped and ready to go after that.
Even opposing players couldn’t be mad at Maradona
Well, except for Shilton. He stays mad. The rest of the opponents interviewed for the documentary couldn’t help but marvel at the otherworldly level of play from Maradona in the tournament. The rest of the players from teams that Argentina defeated were equally in awe. “Of all the goals I’ve seen while I played, the ones that couldn’t be stopped were Maradona’s,” said Belgium’s Jean-Marie Pfaff. West Germany’s Karl-Heinz Rummenigge admitted that Maradona had risen to a level at that World Cup that had even surpassed what Pelé had done in the past. “It was magical, that’s the right word,” Rummenigge said.
England’s Gary Lineker, who finished as the tournament’s top scorer, said Maradona’s second goal against England was the best goal he’s ever seen. As for Shilton? “I would never shake hands with him, no, because I just don’t think he acted the right way,” he said.