England v Argentina in the quarter-finals of the Mexico City 1986 World Cup is arguably the most iconic football match in history, both sublime and outrageous.
Indeed, it was in this match that Diego Maradona scored the goal of the century, where he collected the ball in his own half, dribbling half the England team and ducking into an empty net after taking the ball around goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Of course, his infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal also sparked a bit of controversy.
Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser was the man in the middle of this dramatic match, and reminded FourFourTwo – in the latest issue available to order – what he was thinking when Maradona stood up to meet the ball with his hand on the Azteca pitch that day.
“The ball went up in the air towards Maradona – it wasn’t offside as it came out of an England defender [Steve Hodge]”, Bin Nasser explained. “Maradona and England goalkeeper Peter Shilton pounced on the ball.
“I was standing on the edge of the box and couldn’t see the ball directly because a few players were blocking it. My assistant, Dotchev, had a perfect view, though. Diego scored but, immediately after the goal at the inside, I had my doubts. Something was wrong.”
However, despite feeling that something untoward had happened, Bin Nasser did not call a foul due to guidelines issued by FIFA before the tournament started.
“At the 1986 World Cup, there were 42 referees. Unlike today, there was no distinction between the main referee and his assistants. Before the competition, FIFA brought us all together for three days to give us our official instructions and decide who would be the main referee. the referees, the assistants and the fourth officials… Our instructions were clear: if an assistant was better placed, it was necessary to rely on his judgement.
“I didn’t have a clear view, so I conceded the goal and started going back to the center circle. But the whole time I kept an eye on my assistant. I waited to give me a reason to disallow the goal. , but he said nothing. I had my doubts but my colleague was in a much better position than me. By applying FIFA’s instructions, I was forced to give the goal.”
Despite the goal being awarded, when everyone in the stadium except the officials realized Maradona had used his hand, Bin Nasser praised the England players for the way they reacted to the injustice. Naturally, some were angry, but the referee explained that everyone should forget the moment and continue the match.
“Englishman Terry Fenwick was particularly upset about it. He came up to me shouting ‘handball’ and threw both arms up in the air, but at that point I couldn’t go back on my decision. I just told him to focus on the game.
“I actually didn’t have to chat much with the players and I have to stress how fair the English were that day. At the end of the game, coach Bobby Robson said I had did a good job but blamed my assistant.
“I couldn’t change anything about what happened and I said to myself that mistakes are part of football. I knew I had done a good job during the game because the FIFA supervisor, an Irishman , rated my performance a 9.4/10. From the first to the last minute I made no errors in judgment. Maradona’s handball had to be pointed out by my assistant. I waited for him but he said nothing.
Bin Nasser also admits he was secretly hoping for an England equalizer after Maradona’s brace. Gary Lineker made it 2-1 in the 81st minute, and the Tunisian referee explains how he enjoyed the game so much he wanted it to go into extra time.
“Later England scored and – I have to tell you a secret – I really hoped they would equalize. Not because I wanted one team to win more than the other, but because I wanted to stay. on the pitch for another 30 minutes. I didn’t want the game to end.
England failed to equalize and lost in the quarter-finals. Argentina, meanwhile, won the 1986 World Cup, with Maradona as their talismanic hero.
In 2015, 29 years after the game, Bin Nasser revealed he met Maradona, the latter stopping by the former referee on his way to Dubai. Obviously, Bin Nasser enjoyed being able to witness Maradona’s mazy dribble goal.
“In 2015, Diego came to my house with his wife. He was going to Dubai for an advertisement and came to see me. We talked about the match, him in Spanish and I in French with an interpreter by our side. We took some pictures together and he gave me a signed shirt. We had a good evening.
“Maradona was an impressive person. All the time and everywhere I go. People don’t just want to discuss ‘Hand of God’, though. They also want to talk about Maradona’s second goal. In a way, I I’m part of the legend of this game and I’m proud of it.”