England-Argentina 1986 match helped create Maradona ‘myth’, says ambassador

England’s famous clash with Argentina at the 1986 World Cup played a role in creating the “myth” around late footballer Diego Maradona, the Argentinian ambassador to the UK has said.

Javier Figueroa lowered the Argentinian flag outside his official residence in central London on Wednesday night following the news of the 60-year-old World Cup winner’s death.

Speaking to the PA news agency, the ambassador, who only took up his role two months ago, said he was “deeply saddened” by the passing of one of football’s greatest ever players.

“Everyone in Argentina is mourning and crying, of course. But I think it’s not only in Argentina, I think he was a giant in sport and football,” he said.

Mr Figueroa said the legendary former midfielder was “sort of a myth in Argentina… a figure that is beyond sport”.

He said Argentina, where three days of mourning have been declared, was in a “state of shock” at the loss of a footballing hero who captained the nation’s team to a second World Cup trophy 34 years ago.

Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals in Mexico, when he pushed the ball into the net with his hand, became infamous among English football fans.

But in the same match, he scored a stunning solo effort dubbed the “goal of the century”.

Mr Figueroa said the second strike was “pure poetry”, with the footballer capable of “supernatural” playing.

“Maradona was one of the greatest without any doubt,” he said.

He recalled reading press coverage about Maradona while on his first posting to London between 1998 and 2005.

“I remember many comments in the British press, particularly people who analyse this famous match, and always, always they agree that regardless (of) the hand of god, this match was incredible, incredible and he plays wonderfully.

“It was one of the peak of his performance.

“In a way I think the UK was part of the construction of this myth, because of the history we have and because of the sport rivalry that we have.

“In Argentina, when we play against Brazil, or Uruguay, or UK… there are big expectations.”

Mr Figueroa said he intended to put up a banner in tribute to Maradona at the embassy in London.

Marcus Smith, vice chair of the Anglo-Argentine Society, said Maradona was an “idol” in Argentina.

Mr Smith, 61, who holds dual Argentine and British nationality and was raised in the South American country, noted that the former footballer’s life was “never without incident”.

Speaking to PA, he said: “He became an Argentine hero, exemplified basically by his approach to life, always full of issues on every single level possible, from family through to money, clubs, etc.”

“He basically was a magnet for Argentine passion wherever he went,” he added.

“He was the picaro, he was the man who basically would challenge the normal rules and was loved by the nation for that.

“Whichever team you support in Argentina, you supported Maradona.

“However one may view him on a personal basis, there is no doubt that those with an understanding of football will recognise that he was a giant on the pitch.”

Mr Smith said that in normal circumstances, the footballer’s death would be marked by a traditional Argentine “asado”, or barbecue, which “everybody would participate in”.

Asked what Maradona’s legacy might be in England, Mr Smith said: “I can’t think of any Englishman that would not think of the hand of god and Mexico, in addition to his skills, and his presence.”