You can find similarities between 1986 World Cup in Mexico and the one that we’re all about to be transfixed by for the next month if you look hard enough.
An earthquake in Mexico City eight months before the ’86 tournament cast doubt on the country’s ability to host after they stood in for original hosts Colombia, but when it did go ahead Mexico became the first country to stage the World Cup twice. This time, with doubts still being aired about Brazil’s ability to host, the South Americans will become the fifth country to welcome the world on separate occasions.
England arrived in Mexico with a forward who’d been firing in goals on Merseyside over the previous season, Everton’s Gary Lineker, whilst they’ve landed in Brazil with Liverpool’s 24-goal Daniel Sturridge, as Lineker looks on from a television studio. One European team, Denmark, made their first World Cup finals appearance back then, just as Bosnia and Herzegovina do now. We could go on and on.
The ultimate image of the 1986 tournament isn’t an earthquake though, but more the hurricane that was Diego Maradona.
The Argentina captain shone through the group stages, beat England by foul means and then a fairly brilliant one, took on Belgium on his own and inspired—although didn’t score in—the 3-2 final victory over West Germany in Mexico City.
Lineker took the Golden Boot but Maradona took the Golden Ball, the World Cup trophy and the glory. This was his stage, and the month in Mexico that he would ultimately come to be remembered for.
Maradona would turn 26 years old three months after the finals, whilst Argentina’s current No. 10, captain and inspiration will turn 27 the day before their final Group F match against Nigeria in Porto Alegre on June 25th. Okay, we couldn’t quite get the similarities completely perfect.
By his standards, it hasn’t really been a happy few weeks for Lionel Messi, or indeed a happy season. There are those who’ll tell you that he disappointed in 2013/14 despite a stellar record of 36 goals in 39 games.
That said, he cut a frustrated figure as Atletico Madrid sealed their remarkable La Liga triumph in Barcelona’s own back yard with the final day 1-1 draw at the Nou Camp, whilst he then had to watch Real Madrid seal their long-awaited Champions League success and the Cristiano Ronaldo gun show that came with it.
It would be foolish to think that Messi is motivated by the rivalries that we expect though, and instead he is far more likely to be inspired by the footage of what Maradona was doing in Mexico a year before he was born.
The stage is set for a similar show from an Argentina No. 10, and the next month could be what we all eventually remember Messi for.
Argentina have been handed a somewhat kind draw in Brazil, where they are stationed in Group F alongside those debutants Bosnia and Herzegovina, a hardly vintage Nigeria side and underdogs Iran, whilst a second round clash with France or Switzerland could await before a potential quarter-final against Belgium, the opponents Maradona scored twice against in the last four 28 years ago.
History might tell you that he won that tournament on his own but he did of course have talented teammates, just as Messi does now.
In Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Javier Mascherano and the almost criminally underrated Angel di Maria there is the basis of a very good side. Concerns may stem around the centres of defence and midfield, where Mascherano will be vital, but as long as they play to Messi’s tune then they should be okay.
The captain is the 9.00 favourite to be the World Cup’s top goalscorer in Brazil, whilst he’s 8.50 to follow in Maradona’s footsteps and win the Golden Ball award for the tournament’s best player.
He’ll just be eyeing the big prize though – with Argentina at 5.10 to win the competition – and if he can hit his straps early then we could well be about to see something special.
Mexico 1986 was Maradona’s World Cup, and Brazil 2014 can be Messi’s.
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