In Buenos Aires, they think England are the `pirates'

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ON THE garden wall of the British embassy in Buenos Aires, a scrawl reminds people in English: "Remember the Hand of God, 1986." The English, of course, do not need to be reminded. The rest of the graffiti is more elaborate, and obscene in a very English way - it reads more like the work of one of the yobs who wrecked businesses in Marseilles.

This is just part of the build-up to today's England- Argentina match which has bred a whole new glut of fantasies about settling scores.

The only subject on the radio and television is "the" match, which has greater significance even than the issue of qualification. The wellbeing of the vast Argentine ego rests on the shoulders of eleven men on a field in France.

Argentines want to avenge military defeat, while the English squad is bent on justice. When Diego Maradona said that the goal he scored with his hand in Mexico in 1986 was scored by the Hand of God, he could not have known that he was coining a phrase that would ensure his act would be etched for ever into the English national psyche. For the Argentines, who remember how their sons died at the hands of the British four years earlier, justice has a different meaning.

Maradona arrives in France today to support his squad and his presence has fired up the Argentine popular press. The mass-circulation Cronica and the left-wing Pagina 12 both refer to the English as "pirates" - a cliche coined back in 1966 when England and Argentina clashed, and Alf Ramsey called the Argentines "animals".

Fears that Argentine hooligans might clash with the "pirate" army in France are supported by the arrest of three for causing serious injury to two Croatian fans during the match last week, which football supporters in Buenos Aires see as deeply embarrassing.

Although the Falklands-Malvinas war in which over 700 men were killed on both sides in 1982 heightens emotions, the sports writer Graciela Ortiz of the English-language Buenos Aires Herald, insists that in Argentina most people are "thinking of football

Among many observers the "Hand of God" incident is a source of embarrassment and not pride. But when Maradona arrives in France today, it will be foremost in the mind of most who witness his arrival. And perhaps the greatest Argentine fear is that his presence will serve to fire up the English team more than his own.


Things were different back in 1986. The weather was better, for one thing. We awaited England's World Cup quarter-final against Argentina in the midst of a heatwave. This year it's brollies and boots all round. So what else has changed? Or is it still the case that what goes around comes around and plus ca change, plus c'est la meme World Cup?

POLITICS: IN 1986...

Tory PM Mrs Thatcher supervises a rapidly overheating economy. Police are involved in clashes on picket lines outside Rupert Murdoch's new Wapping HQ.

Labour PM Mr Blair faces an overheating economy. His spin-doctors are involved in clashes with journalists over Mr Murdoch's defiant new line on EMU.

In '86 the country slid into hyper-inflation, but current President Menem now runs a low-inflation economy that's big on privatisation: sounds familiar.

FASHION: IN 1986...

Vogue tells readers to prepare for their hols with "the essential white linen suit ... new thin trousers ... a great white short and ... towelling dressing gown".

Voguettes are advised to go for "strappy broderie anglaise ... colour and skimpiness ... updated swimsuits that are blatantly sexy and hi-tech.'

Argentine women pride themselves on their chic, wearing all the big global labels. Buenos Aires was the site of the only Harrods outside Knightsbridge.

FILM: IN 1986...

Top Gun, a mindless mix of MTV rock vid and Uncle Sam propaganda, is the hot ticket at the cinema.

Independence Day, a mindless mix of computer-graphic effects and tub-thumping jingoism, does the business ... $800m and still counting.

Eighties movies featured a new group of actors, including Miguel- Angel Sola. Now local stars like Cecilia do Pazo feature in intimate, emotional flicks.

MUSIC: IN 1986...

Queen play their last-ever concert. England's World Cup song, "We've Got the Whole World at Our Feet", staggers to No 66 before collapsing.

120,000 people get stuck in the mud at Glastonbury. Fat Les's "Vindaloo" and the Skinner/Baddiel/Lightning Seeds "Three Lions" dominate the charts.

If you were a hip Argentine, your little daughter would love Los Spice Girls. But you'd go for the female contempo-folk sound of Soledad.

PEOPLE: IN 1986...

Arise Sir Bob Geldof. And all hail Sarah Ferguson, who dressed up as a police woman (with Princess Diana) to crash Andy's stag party at Annabel's.

Arise Lords Melvyn Bragg and Waheed Ali. And three cheers for Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, who dressed up as a fairy for George Michael's 35th birthday party.

Gossip columnists follow the movements of models Valeria Mazza and Maria Vasques, utilities uber-fat-cat Francisco Macri and lady tycoon Amalia Fortabat.

FOOTBALL: IN 1986...

Manager Bobby Robson endures defeat by Portugal. A new-look team plays brilliantly until meeting Argentina, Diego Maradona and the infamous Hand of God.

Coach Glenn Hoddle endures defeat by Romania. A new-look team plays one good game before meeting Argentina, Gabriel Batistuta and ... who knows?

The match is the only topic of debate in the media, which refers to Britain as "the pirates", a cliche that dates back to 1966.