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1986 World Cup: Maradona Leads Argentina To Second Victory

The 1986 World Cup saw the rise of another football immortal. Until that year, Diego Armando Maradona was only an excellent Argentine midfielder with rare skill, a track record of indiscipline, and a controversial figure.

However, after June 1986 in Mexico, Dieguito became a myth. For everyone, a genius with his left leg; for many, comparable even to Pelé; for the Argentinians, a demigod.

Estadio Azteca in Mexico


1986 World Cup Facts

Dates: May 31 – June 29, 1986
1982 World Cup Final Score: Argentina – West Germany 3-2
3rd place: France – Belgium 4-2
Teams: 24
Stadiums: 12
Host cities: 11
Matches played: 52
Goals: 132
Attendance: 2,393,031
Top scorer: Gary Lineker (England) 6 goals

1986 World Cup Background

For the 13th World Cup, Colombia was the only South American to place a bid. Host voting was from this World Cup only handled by the FIFA Executive Committee (Exco) instead of the FIFA congress.

On June 9, 1974, in Stockholm, they announced that Colombia would host the 1986 World Cup. However, in November 1982, 4 years before the World Cup would start, Colombia withdrew their bid!

They stated the country’s financial problems regarding the World Cup organization. As a reaction, countries were able again to place a bid to host the 1986 World Cup.

Canada, the United States, and Mexico showed interest and officially placed a bid. On May 20, 1983, the Exco voted unanimously for Mexico, which was allowed to host the 1986 World Cup for the second time.

Their first World Cup was hosted in 1970. Mexico became the first country in World Cup history to have hosted a World Cup twice. This was the first time the host country announcement was made from Zurich, Switzerland.

From this announcement, all the votes regarding the World Cup host countries would be announced in Zurich, where the FIFA headquarters are based. On September 19, 1985, eight months before the World Cup, a severe earthquake occurred in Mexico City, creating immense damage in several cities.

This event created doubt about whether Mexico could continue with the preparations, as was the case with Chile, the host country of the 1962 World Cup. However, the stadiums were not damaged, and Mexico could still proceed with the preparations and finish on time.

The year 1986 was declared the International Year of Peace by the United Nations. There was a clear emphasis on this declaration since the stadium’s advertising boards showed both the FIFA and United Nations logos, including the slogan: Football for Peace – Peace Year.

The logo of the 1986 World Cup received the following unofficial motto or slogan referring to the design of the logo: El Mundo Unido por Un Balón (The World United by a Ball).

This slogan could be considered the first ever World Cup slogan.

World Cup 1986 Participants

As with every new World Cup, more countries tried to qualify. For the 1986 World Cup, 121 countries participated in the qualifications, trying to be 1 of the 24 countries that eventually would participate in the tournament.

As was introduced in the 1982 World Cup, Mexico ’86 would consist of 24 countries. Mexico (host country) and Italy (previous World Cup winner) were automatically qualified.

Twelve European places were allocated to the following countries: Bulgaria, Belgium, the Soviet Union, France, Hungary, Spain, Northern Ireland, Denmark, West Germany, England, Poland, and Portugal. Denmark qualified for the first time, and Portugal qualified for the first time since 1966.

Four places for South America were allocated to the following countries: Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay, which qualified for the first time since 1958. Two places for Africa were allocated to the following countries: Algeria and Morocco.

Two places for Asia were allocated to the following countries: South Korea and Iraq. As a result, Iraq qualified for the first time, and South Korea qualified for the first time since 1954. One place for North/Central America and the Caribbean. Canada qualified for the first time.

One intercontinental play-off had to be played by two countries that didn’t qualify directly: UEFA country Scotland against OFC country Australia. Scotland won the play-off and qualified last minute for the 1986 World Cup.

World Cup 1986 Groups

Although Mexico ’86 contained 24 teams, the format introduced new features just like in Spain ’82. The round-robin 2nd Round, introduced in the 1974 World Cup, has been replaced with a different format.

It is the Round of 16 that makes its introduction in this World Cup. This is the start of the knockout phase, meaning if you lose, you’re out. The six groups are now mentioned as Group A, B, etc., instead of group 1, 2, etc.

Each group contains four teams, where the two best teams advance to the Round of 16. The second interesting aspect of the format is that the last 2 group matches would be played simultaneously for the first time in World Cup history.

In both the 1978 and 1982 World Cups, the last group matches were affected due to the result of the other group match previously played. (Remember Argentina against Peru in 1978? Or West Germany against Austria in 1982?).

Therefore, by introducing this rule, all four teams will give their best in the last group matches since it is uncertain yet what the outcome of the other game will be. The last group matches have become more exciting with this rule.

The third new aspect of the 1986 format is that aside from the number 1 and 2 teams, the four best third-place teams would advance to the Round of 16 Only two teams occupying third place would not advance from the six groups. The goal difference rule would be implemented if multiple third-place teams had equal points.

If the goal difference were the same, the number of goals scored would have to determine the position of both countries. Lots had to be drawn only when this amount was the same.

In the Round of 16, the number 1 teams of the groups would play against the number 2 or 3 teams of other groups.

Although some Round of 16 matches contained number 2 teams against another number 2 team, they would not play against number 3.

After the Round of 16, the winning team advanced to the Quarter-Finals. The last time the Quarter-Finals stage was played was back in Mexico in 1970.

After the Quarter-Finals, the teams had to play the Semi-Finals before reaching the Final, or in the pessimistic case, the match for the third place.

The six seed countries were Mexico, Italy, West Germany, Poland, France, and Brazil. However, they were kept apart from each other and were placed in different groups.

The groups were as followed:

Group AGroup BGroup C
ArgentinaMexicoSoviet Union
South KoreaIraqCanada
Group DGroup EGroup F 
SpainWest GermanyEngland
Northern IrelandUruguayPoland

World Cup Stadiums Of 1986

Twelve stadiums were used in 11 host cities. In the 1970 tournament, only five host cities and five stadiums were used. All the stadiums in the 1970 World Cup were used again in this tournament.

Two stadiums were used in Mexico City: Estadio Azteca and Estadio Olímpico. Estadio Azteca has the honor of being the first and only stadium so far to have hosted a World Cup Final twice. Soon Estadio Azteca will no longer be the only stadium with this privilege.

Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro will be the 2nd stadium to host a World Cup Final for the 2nd time during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The following 11 cities and 12 stadiums were used in Mexico:

Estadio Azteca

Location: Mexico City
Opened: 1966
Capacity: 114,600
Matches: 9
Status: First and only stadium so far which has hosted a World Cup Final twice and is Mexico’s official and biggest stadium.

Estadio Olímpico Universitario

Location: Mexico City
Opened: 1952
Capacity: 72,000
Matches: 4
Status: It is a multi-purpose stadium and resembles a volcano since it is built on a volcanic stone surface.

Estadio Jalisco

Location: Guadalajara
Opened: 1960
Capacity: 66,000
Matches: 6
Status: Renovated in 1999 and is the 3rd largest Mexican stadium behind the Azteca and Olímpico.

Estadio Cuauhtemoc

Location: Puebla
Opened: 1968
Capacity: 46,000
Matches: 5
Status: Expanded in 1985 and is named after the last Aztec emperor; there are plans for a complete renovation.

Estadio Universitario

Location: San Nicolás de los Garza
Opened: 1967
Capacity: 44,000
Matches: 5
Status: Has the nickname El Volcan (“The Volcano”).

Estadio La Corregidora

Location: Querétaro
Opened: 1985
Capacity: 40,785
Matches: 4
Status: One of the most beautiful Mexican stadiums used primarily for football matches.

Estadio Tecnologico

Location: Monterrey
Opened: 1950
Capacity: 38,000
Matches: 3
Status: It expanded in 1985 for the World Cup and is a multi-purpose stadium.

Estadio Nou Camp

Location: León
Opened: 1967
Capacity: 35,000
Matches: 4
Status: It is officially named Estadio Leon and is a mid-sized stadium.

Estadio Neza 86

Location: Nezahualcoyotl
Opened: 1981
Capacity: 35,000
Matches: 3
Status: It will be renovated soon, but the capacity will decrease.

Estadio Sergio Leon Chavez

Location: Irapuato
Opened: 1969
Capacity: 32,000
Matches: 3
Status: It is a multi-purpose stadium mainly used for football matches.

Estadio Tres de Marzo

Location: Zapopan
Opened: 1971
Capacity: 30,000
Matches: 3
Status: Renovated in 1973, 1975, in the 80s for the World Cup, and for the last time in 1999.

Estadio Nemesio Díez

Location: Toluca
Opened: 1954
Capacity: 30,000
Matches: 3
Status: It has the nickname La Bombonera and is one of the oldest Mexican football stadiums.

Change Of Venue For 1986 World Cup

As Colombia decided not to host the 1986 World Cup tournament due to financial problems, Mexico was left to be the first country to host a FIFA World Cup for the second time.

An earthquake in September 1985 almost threatened to stop the party, but the tragedy made the Mexican people unite and make the most of the World Cup to rebuild their country.

The 1986 World Cup had a new format, with the second round of groups giving way to a series of knockout matches, which started with the round of sixteen. Therefore, the four best third places in the group stage also qualified.

gary lineker england mexico world cup 1986

France Were The 1986 World Cup Favorites

Argentina was not the hot favorite. For example, France already had Michel Platini, who had already risen to world fame.

England had their best team in a long time, with Gary Lineker, who would finish as the 1986 World Cup tournament’s top scored with six goals.

Traumatized by their defeat in 1982, Brazil still had Zico, Sócrates, Junior, and Falcão. Telê Santana was still the manager, and they wanted to correct what they felt to be an injustice four years earlier.

Italy was the defending champion, and West Germany, coached by Franz Beckenbauer, had Lothar Matthäus, the successor of their legendary sweeper.

laudrup tackling in a world cup game

There was also room for sensations, such as Michael Laudrup’s Denmark. The Danish won three matches in the group stage. Playing offensive football, they thrashed two-time winners Uruguay 6-1.

A rather good start, as together with Canada and Iraq, this was their first World Cup.

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The Soviet Union, Emilio Butragueño’s Spain, and Belgium also showed a lot of force but ended up eliminated along the way.

Morocco, the first African country to ever get through the first stage of the World Cup, after winning their group thanks to a 3-1 win over Portugal.

However, Morocco would be eliminated in the next match against West Germany.

Diego Maradona about to score against peter shilton in 1986

The Argentine Genius

Nevertheless, no one was a match for the Argentine number 10. Maradona scored five goals and gave another five assists in Argentina’s 14.

In addition, he scored what is considered the best goal in World Cup history and the most famous irregular goal of all time.

Argentina finished the group stage with two victories over Bulgaria and South Korea and a draw against Italy. In the round of 16, they beat their neighbor Uruguay 1-0.

1986 world cup final in azteca stadium

Maradona took it up a notch in the quarter-final. Their opponent was England. It was the first time that both countries would face each other since the Falklands War.

The Argentines took the lead with an irregular goal by Dieguito. He used his hand to lob goalkeeper Peter Shilton. The referee allowed the goal, and then Maradona would dub the goal as the ‘Hand of God.’

1986 world cup tackle

However, the second goal scored by Argentina’s number 10 against the English was a scorcher. Maradona got the ball in his half, with his back to the opponent’s half.

He turned, left the first marker behind, and sprinted towards goal, dribbling past five English players, including keeper Peter Shilton, before tapping the ball into the back of the net.

Lineker managed to pull one back, but Argentina was through to the semi-final, and the French newspaper L’Équipe published a sentence that perhaps best describes Maradona: ‘Half angel, half demon.’

Maradona lifting the trophy following the win over West Germany in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico

1986 World Cup Player Of The Tournament

Maradona got another two memorable goals in Argentina’s victory over Belgium in the semi-final, giving their goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, who had disdained him before the match, something to think about.

In the 1986 World Cup final, there were the Germans again, who, like in 1982, had eliminated Platini’s France in the semi-final.

In the final, German manager Franz Beckenbauer gave Lothar Matthäus the responsibility of marking Maradona.

1986 world cup results knockout stages

Argentine defender José Luis Brown, who played quite a bit of the match with an injured hand, opened the score. Then, Jorge Valdano increased their lead.

However, the Germans would once more show their incredible recovery capability and draw the match with goals from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Rudi Völler. But not even Matthäus managed to stop Maradona.

In the 83rd minute, Dieguito released Jorge Burruchaga, who scored Argentina’s third and guaranteed their second title.

socrates brazilian soccer player

Problems From Beginning To End

After mesmerizing the planet in 1982 but coming home early from Sprain, Brazil hoped that things would pan out differently this time, mainly because it still had players like Zico and Sócrates.

However, they faced many problems during the preparation stage. First, manager Telê Santana, who took over a little before the World Cup, replacing Evaristo de Macedo, cut center forward Renato Gaúcho.

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As a result, left-back Leandro decided not to go to the 1986 World Cup tournament in defense of his friend. Injured, Zico had to work very hard to be match fit. To make matters worse, Falcão also had injury problems.

This resulted in narrow victories over Spain and Algeria in the group stage. In the third game, against Northern Ireland, Telê replaced injured Édson with fall-back Josimar.

claudio taffarel diving to his left while roberto baggio kicks the ball over the goals

Brazil And Penalty Shootout

Brazil improved and beat the Irish 3-0, with a goal from Josimar and two from Careca. In the round of 16, Poland posed no threat. Josimar scored again, as did Careca, and Brazil managed an easy 4-0 win.

However, their joy was short-lived. They would play Michel Platini’s France, European champions in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final. Despite this, Brazil took the lead with Careca.

1986 world cup logo

Then Platini equalized in the first half. Finally, in the second half, Zico had the opportunity of sealing the Brazilian win. The Flamengo midfielder got up to take a penalty suffered by Branco.

However, he did not hit the ball well, and French goalkeeper Joël Bats defended. The match went into extra time but remained tied. A penalty shootout was to decide the outcome.

This time, Zico converted his effort. However, Sócrates and Júlio César missed their penalties and watched as the talented 1980s generation bid a sad farewell to the 1986 World Cup.


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