Argentina fans who doubted Diego Maradona: 'Please forgive us!'
After leading Argentina to the 1986 World Cup championship with his notorious 'hand of god,' Diego Maradona fell from grace among countrymen. He's now proving himself again as a soccer icon.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
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But after four convincing victories, including an easy 3-1 win over Mexico on Sunday in the first elimination round, Argentina looks like the Cup favorite. Heathens here in Argentina have become believers, blasphemes have repented, and Maradona (so far) has proved his worth in this country where futbol is religion.
Mr. Schvarstein’s doubt was understandable. During World Cup qualifiers, Argentina failed to live up to expectations, barely squeaking through the South America group by winning the last automatic slot. Maradona seemed unable to inspire Argentina’s star player, Lionel Messi. He had trouble putting a team together.
In an unofficial poll last October on the website of the country’s largest daily, Clarin, 86 percent of 14,000 voters believed that Maradona could not help his team improve.
But the turbulent pre-Cup period now seems like simply a test of true believers.
"Have I repented?” asks Lucas Vargas, a policeman who says he didn’t trust Maradona before the cup. “Obviously!” Mr. Vargas has watched the games at a cafe on his beat, saying that the streets are empty during the matches, leaving him little else to do but watch.
Maradona's mixed past
Maradona has had a mixed record on and off the pitch. His was the so-called “hand-of-god” in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals when, as a player, he tapped the ball with his hand on a drive through the English defense to score Argentina’s first goal of the game. Maradona scored again three minutes later in an equally fantastic play and the Argentines advanced with a 2-1 victory. They went on to win the 1986 title, the second and last time the team won the Cup.
But he has also been dogged by personal and professional problems, including being ejected from the 1994 World Cup for doping. Yet Maradona now seems to have shed his bad-boy image, cultivating instead a persona of the experienced, fatherly coach.