fb-pixel Skip to main content

Diego Maradona, soccer legend who led Argentina to 1986 World Cup title, dead at 60

Diego Maradona led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup championship.
Diego Maradona led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup championship.Bob Thomas/Getty Images

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Diego Maradona, the Argentine soccer great who scored the “Hand of God” goal in 1986 and led his country to that year’s World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, has died. He was 60.

A person close to Maradona said he died Wednesday of a heart attack. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Maradona died two weeks after being released from a Buenos Aires hospital following brain surgery.

The office of Argentina’s president said it will declare three days of national mourning, and the Argentine soccer association expressed its sorrow on Twitter.

Advertisement



One of the most famous moments in the history of the sport, the “Hand of God” goal, came when Maradona punched the ball into England’s net during the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals. He also captivated fans around the world over a two-decade career with a bewitching style of play that was all his own.

Although his reputation was tarnished by his addictions and an ill-fated spell in charge of the national team, he remained idolized in soccer-mad Argentina as the “Pibe de Oro” or “Golden Boy.”

“You took us to the top of the world,” Argentine president Alfredo Fernández said on social media. “You made us incredibly happy. You were the greatest of all.”

The No. 10 he wore on his jersey became synonymous with him, as it also had with Pele, the Brazilian great with whom Maradona was regularly paired as the best of all time.

The Brazilian said in a statement he had lost “a dear friend.”

“There is much more to say, but for now may God give his family strength,” Pelé said. “One day, I hope, we will play soccer together in the sky.”

Advertisement



Bold, fast, and utterly unpredictable, Maradona was a master of attack, juggling the ball easily from one foot to the other as he raced upfield. Dodging and weaving with his low center of gravity, he shrugged off countless rivals and often scored with a devastating left foot, his most powerful weapon.

“Everything he was thinking in his head, he made it happen with his feet,” said Salvatore Bagni, who played with Maradona at Italian club Napoli.

A ballooning waistline slowed Maradona’s explosive speed later in his career and by 1991 he was snared in his first doping scandal when he admitted to a cocaine habit that haunted him until he retired in 1997, at 37.

Hospitalized near death in 2000 and again in ’04 for heart problems blamed on cocaine, he later said he overcame the drug problem. Cocaine, he once said famously, had proven to be his “toughest rival.”

But more health problems followed, despite a 2005 gastric bypass that greatly trimmed his weight. Maradona was hospitalized in early 2007 for acute hepatitis that his doctor blamed on excessive drinking and eating.

He made an unlikely return to the national team in 2008 when he was appointed Argentina coach, but after a quarterfinal exit at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, he was ousted — ultimately picking up another coaching job with the United Arab Emirates club Al Wasl.

Maradona was the fifth of eight children who grew up in a poor, gritty barrio on the Buenos Aires outskirts where he played a kind of dirt-patch soccer that launched many Argentines to international stardom.

Advertisement



None of them approached Maradona’s fame. In 2001, FIFA named Maradona one of the two greatest in the sport’s history, alongside Pele.

“Maradona inspires us,” said then-Argentina striker Carlos Tevez, explaining his country’s everyman fascination with Maradona at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. “He’s our idol, and an idol for the people.”

Maradona reaped titles at home and abroad, playing in the early 1980s for Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors before moving on to Spanish and Italian clubs. His crowning achievement came at the 1986 World Cup, captaining Argentina in its 3-2 win over West Germany in the final and decisive in a 2-1 victory against England in a feisty quarterfinal match.

Over the protests of England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, the referee let stand a goal by Maradona in which, as he admitted years later, he intentionally hit the ball with his hand in “a bit of mischief.”

But Maradona’s impact wouldn’t be confined to cheating. Four minutes later, he spectacularly weaved past four opponents from midfield to beat Shilton for what FIFA later declared the greatest goal in World Cup history.

Many Argentines saw the match as revenge for their country’s loss to Britain in the 1982 war over the Falkland Islands, which Argentines still claim as “Las Malvinas.”

“It was our way of recovering ‘Las Malvinas,’” Maradona wrote in his 2000 autobiography “I am Diego.”

“It was more than trying to win a game. We said the game had nothing to do with the war. But we knew that Argentines had died there, that they had killed them like birds. And this was our revenge. It was something bigger than us: We were defending our flag.”

Advertisement