Football World Cup: Maradona haunts Hoddle

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The Independent Online
IT WAS 12 years and one week ago. Glenn Hoddle was sitting in a state of shock in a small room, deep in the subterranean bowels of the Azteca Stadium, Mexico City. Outside, 114,580 fans were on their way home, still discussing Diego Maradona's extraordinary goals against England. The second, in which he beat half a team, was remarkable enough but it was his first, which he had punched in, which was dominating conversation.

It was also at the forefront of Glenn Hoddle's mind. "It was a feeling of total injustice," he recalled yesterday of his mood after that World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina. "It took me four days to get over it when we got back."

So Hoddle sat there in the stifling heat alongside Terry Butcher, each trying, in their dehydrated state, to produce a drug sample. Then in walked Diego Maradona.

It was not as tricky a moment as might be imagined. "We didn't blame him, we blamed the referee [Tunisia's Ali Ben Naceur]. I shook hands with him on the pitch and I didn't have a problem with him. I didn't say anything, my Spanish isn't too good, but it was a good feeling in there - though I don't think big Terry was in the same frame of mind."

The handball still clearly rankles with Hoddle though. While he studiously avoided notions of "revenge" - "a horrible word", he said - he sees Tuesday's second-round tie as "a chance to redress the balance". In a curious mix of praise and complaint, Hoddle, the only survivor in either party from 1986, offered words to both stir and calm what will be a tense atmosphere in St-Etienne.

"I never felt retribution towards Maradona. I've seen him since and it's not a problem. What he did was instinctive, he probably thought he'd be booked. He was a great player, for me the greatest individual talent ever, better even than Pele. Pele was a better team player, and in a better team, but no man will ever influence a World Cup by himself as much as Maradona did in 1986.

"I watched a lot of his games in Italy [where Maradona, at the cost of near-bankrupting the club, steered Napoli to their first title], and they always had two men on him.

"But this is a big game for us. It was an injustice in '86. It decided the game. It had been very tight until then. The second goal was a great goal but we were still stunned - it wouldn't have been scored if he hadn't got the first one. People say the Argentines regard it as redressing the balance for 1966 [when Antonio Rattin was sent off at Wembley], but you cannot put the two together, they're miles apart - it was a blatant handball.

"Would I be happy if we won with a goal like that? We won't need a goal like that. I would rather play Argentina than Croatia because I think we'll play better against them. People would expect us to beat Croatia, while Argentina are many people's favourites. But we play better with our backs to the wall. It brings the best out of us."

Friday's match against Colombia was a case in point and Hoddle added: "I was very satisfied, we created lots of chances and restricted theirs. We had a more aggressive head on and it was a great team performance.

"We are now spot-on, exactly where I hoped we would be. We have no injuries and no suspensions, and all 22 players are available. We are going into this game with the confidence of a good performance behind us. Losing a game has not been a problem, just as it was not for Brazil.

"It's about pacing yourself. France are the form side but there is a long way to go. Argentina haven't let a goal in but they have yet to be tested. There is no reason why we can't beat them. We have a positive vibe in the camp."

The referee on Tuesday night will be Denmark's Kim Milton, who booked just one player, Lothar Matthaus, in his previous match, the 2-2 draw between Yugoslavia and Germany. Danish referees are usually on a similar wavelength to English players, and Hoddle appears happy with the choice.

Not that the game is expected to be dirty. Daniel Passarella's Argentina are far more disciplined than some of their predecessors and stand a point behind England at the top of the fair play league with four bookings and no dismissals.

In 1986 Hoddle watched the final, in which Argentina beat West Germany, in Spain. "I had to get out of the country and ended up watching it surrounded by Germans. I watched it as a neutral." This time he hopes to watch it as a partisan, in Paris, from the touchline.

After Friday England have the confidence. Tomorrow we will learn if they have the ability.