Former referee Ali Nasser, who missed Diego Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final, has paid tribute to the ‘genius’ Argentine who died aged 60 on Wednesday.
Maradona leapt with England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and punched the ball into the net with his left fist to give Argentina the lead shortly after half-time at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
Just four minutes later, Maradona doubled his side’s advantage with arguably the greatest solo goal in World Cup history, running past a host of onrushing England defenders from inside his own half before rounding Shilton and slotting the ball home.
Gary Lineker pulled one back for the Three Lions late on but Argentina progressed to the final where they beat West Germany and Maradona was awarded the Golden Ball as the the standout player of the tournament.
Tunisian ref Nasser, regarded as Fifa’s man for the big occasion at the time, was chosen to officiate England’s clash with Argentina, which took place just four years after the Falklands War.
Reflecting on the match and Maradona’s controversial opening goal, Nasser told AFP: ‘I didn’t see the hand, but I had a doubt.
‘You can see the pictures – I stepped back to take the advice of my assistant, Bulgarian [Bogdan] Dochev, and when he said it was good, I gave the goal.
‘I had already refereed a match between the USSR and China in 1985, I was the man of difficult missions for Fifa.
‘Fifa gave me a 9.4 on this game, I did what I had to do, but there was confusion – Dochev later indicated that he had seen two arms, and he didn’t know if it was Shilton’s or Maradona’s.’
Nasser admitted he almost stopped play for a foul on Maradona as the Argentine magician slalomed his way round several England players for his second goal, which he described as a ‘masterpiece’.
‘I was ready to whistle for a dangerous foul on Maradona,’ the 76-year-old added.
‘I thought after 50 yards of effort, they were going to bring him down.
‘I was proud to participate in that masterpiece.’
Maradona gifted Nasser an Argentina shirt emblazoned with the words ‘To my eternal friend Ali’ when the pair met 29 laters later to film an advert in Tunisia.
‘We had a good time, I told him that that day, it was not Argentina who won, but him, Maradona,’ he continued.
‘He was a genius, a football legend.
‘As a referee, I did not allow myself to close my eyes even for a second when following him, because he was capable of anything.’