Wednesday’s ‘game of God’: Will Maradona create history again?

By Venkata Vemuri, IANS,

London : Diego Maradona has sorted out his friends and enemies before he enters the Hampden Park stadium in Glasgow Wednesday night to create history yet again.

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The Argentina-Scotland match is expected to eclipse even the England-Germany face-off the same night because of the presence of the man with the “hand of God” who wants to win his first match as the Argentine coach on the same ground he scored his first international goal against the same team in 1979.

He told The Guardian on Tuesday: “It’s something that was very special to me. It was nice to start my international career and get my first goal here. What I want to do in terms of repaying them is hopefully put on a good spectacle tomorrow night.”

Enemies first. There’s actually only one and he has hated Maradona for the last 22 years. Terry Butcher, the Scots’ assistant manager, was part of the English team which was knocked out of the 1986 World Cup because of Maradona’s infamous ‘hand of God’ goal.

And Butcher has refused to shake hands with the new Argentine coach before the kick- off because he has never “forgiven” him for that loss to a disputed goal by Maradona that he attributed to the “hand of God”.

Maradona brushed it aside: “I’m not going to seek him out. I don’t know why Butcher would take this attitude. Let him get on with his life, and I’ll get on with mine. I won’t lose any sleep over it.”

He is otherwise loved in Scotland and popular among even diehard Scots fans. “I’m very much aware of how popular I am in Scotland. I’m glad I somehow made the people of this country happy and if I get the chance I will do so again… to repay the fans in Scotland for their support I want to offer up a spectacle tomorrow night.”

He has friends in the Scots media too, which was evident at Tuesday’s press conference when they egged him on the Butcher episode with a friendly pass. “But surely, you as a patriot for your own team can understand why a patriot like Butcher would have been upset in 1986?”

Maradona’s reply was prompt: “England won a World Cup and it was plain to see for everyone that they did that with a goal that did not cross the line. I don’t think it’s fair to judge me [for 1986] when stuff like that went on in 1966.”

There was laughter around the room, though muted because of the presence of the English media. Not that it mattered to Maradona who parted his hands wide and remarked: “It was that far short of the line.”

The Scotland Football Association (SFA) is fervent in its prayer that Maradona can rescue them out of a financial mire. They’ve been able to sell only 27,000 of the 52,000 tickets till Tuesday night. It is said the SFA paid £800,000 to get Argentina to play in Glasgow and they will need to sell at least 35,000 tickets to break even. So, tickets will be sold until match time.

The SFA hopes that Maradona’s unexpected presence – which has led to 450 media accreditation applications and 150 countries buying broadcast rights to the game – will swell the gate at the last minute.