PORTO SEGURO, Brazil – Diego Maradona was reportedly so struck by stage fright that he called for his mother’s help as Argentina players sat in silence in their changing room before the 1986 World Cup final against West Germany.
But it was Maradona who provided the moment of brilliance that decided the game and gave Argentina its second title before 114,800 fans at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City. Four years later, Maradona was in tears as the Germans lifted the title in Rome’s Olympic stadium.
Argentina and Germany have a long and emotional World Cup rivalry involving some of the best players to grace the game. When they face each other again on Sunday in Rio De Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium, it will be the third World Cup final between the teams – something no other two nations have accomplished.
The 1986 and 1990 finals are still two of the most talked about games in football history.
In 1986, Maradona was at the summit of his career and scored all four of Argentina’s goals in the quarterfinals and semifinals – including the “hand of God” against England. Franz Beckenbauer was in charge of Germany in his first major tournament as coach.
Germany’s camp was in disarray, and goalkeeper Uli Stein was sent home for insulting Beckenbauer. Journalists shared a hotel with the players and their nightly escapades became tabloid lore.
But the Germans plodded on and beat France 2-0 in the semifinals, even though the Michel Platini-led French team had been widely expected to face Argentina in the final.
And so, in the noon-time heat of the awe-inspiring Azteca, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Maradona led their sides out. The Germany captain was playing injured throughout the tournament and had not scored.
Jose Luis Brown’s header and Jorge Valdano’s goal on a counterattack gave Argentina a 2-0 lead and Maradona’s team appeared to be cruising. Then the Germans struck back.
Rummenigge and substitute Rudi Voeller scored from Andreas Brehme’s free kicks and suddenly it was 2-2 with eight minutes to play.
Maradona had been marked by Lothar Matthaeus, who did a good job throughout the match. But with the Germans trying to use the momentum and grab the winner, the ball took a weird bounce in midfield and Maradona sent Jorge Burruchaga racing with a deft left-foot flick. Burruchaga beat the offside trap and Argentina had the title.
Years later, Valdano told Germany’s Spiegel magazine that Maradona was so nervous before the final that he called for his mother, Tota.
“‘Tota, come and help me, I am afraid, you must help me,”‘ Valdano described the scene as Maradona broke the pre-match silence in the dressing room.
Four years after that game, Beckenbauer became the first man to win the World Cup as both player and coach.
Germany dominated the final, outshooting Argentina 23-1 but the South Americans held on despite having two men sent off, Pedro Monzon and Gustavo Dezotti, a first for a World Cup final.
The match was decided by a disputed penalty in the 85th minute that was converted by Brehme with a low shot inside the post. Matthaeus had been the designated penalty taker, but he did not trust his shoes and left it for Brehme.
Matthaeus began the match with a pair of shoes he got as a gift from Maradona. But the right shoe came apart during the first half and Matthaeus had to get a new pair during the break. He did not feel comfortable enough to take the penalty.
A furious Maradona broke into tears as he blamed the referee for the loss. Beckenbauer walked alone on the grass of the Olympic stadium in a reflective mood as his players celebrated. In 2010, Maradona was in charge of the Argentina team when it lost 4-0 to Germany in the quarterfinals, ending his second career as national team coach.
After the 1990 match, Beckenbauer predicted that a reunited Germany would be virtually unbeatable.
However, Germany is still waiting for its fourth title, having lost the 2002 final to Brazil. Argentina hasn’t been back on this stage until now – and again faces a familiar opponent.