Boston, June 21, 1994. An era was ending, although no one quite knew then. Argentina thumped Greece 4-0, Gabriel Batistuta bagged a hat-trick, and in between, a 33-year-old Diego Maradona thumped in a glorious left-footed strike after a dizzying sequence of one-touch exchanges outside the Greece penalty area. Having played only a scattering of games for Sevilla and Newell's Old Boys in two years since serving a 15-month ban for cocaine use, the world's greatest footballer looked fitter than ever and seemed primed for another shot at World Cup glory.
Four days later, Maradona tested positive for ephedrine, a performance-enhancing and weight-loss inducing substance, and left the World Cup in disgrace.
His career had completed the circle that began in 1982, when he had walked off red-carded after kicking out at Brazil's Joao Batista in the dying minutes of Argentina's campaign-ending 1-3 second round defeat.
Four years later, the genius in him overpowered his petulant streak and transformed an otherwise workmanlike Argentina into a World Cup winner. He scored five goals in the competition, including two in the quarterfinal at the Estadio Azteca — the 'Hand of God' and the 'Goal of the Century', that scarcely believable dribble that took him from the halfway line past pretty much each one of the England players — that will forever define the two sides of his personality, streetwise genius and footballing god.
In the semi-final against Belgium, he scored twice in a 2-0 win, the first a casual flick with the outside of his left foot, the second another solo effort that saw him slalom past four defenders.
Argentina beat Germany 3-2 in a tense final, where Maradona, his explosive surges contained by a young Lothar Matthaus, produced a quiet master-class, scoring none of the goals himself, but having a hand in each of them, winning the free kick that led to Jose Luis Brown's headed opener, starting with a quick turn in midfield the move finished by Valdano, and playing the through-ball out of a tight clutch of German players that Burruchaga ran on to secure victory.
In 1990, Maradona was equally influential in setting up another Argentina-Germany final. Most memorably, he assisted the only goal in the 1-0 second round win over Brazil, dribbling through the heart of the opposition before releasing to Claudio Caniggia. Ahead of the semi-final against host Italy, he cheekily exhorted the Naples crowd to cheer for him (he played for Napoli in Serie A) over their country, stating that “'Italy makes it (Naples) feel important one day of the year, but forgets about it the other 364.'" Whether this had an effect or not, Argentina scraped through on penalties, with Maradona converting the last of his team's spot-kicks. In the end though, Germany exacted revenge for '86, winning a dull final 1-0.
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