Gracias Fútbol: Diego Maradona's iconic goal and other golden World Cup moments

portrait of Andres Cantor and Maradona with argentina jersey
World Cup commentator Andrés Cantor remembers witnessing Diego Maradona's iconic goal against England at the 1986 tournament, held in Mexico. (Joshua Sandoval / For The Times)

Ahead of the World Cup and as part of our "Gracias Fútbol" project, we asked colleagues, family, one famous soccer commentator and readers of the Latinx Files newsletter to share some of their favorite memories related to the tournament. Here's what they had to say.

I was in the press section of Azteca Stadium in Mexico City and the buzz was that Diego Maradona’s first goal had been scored with his hand. From high we clearly saw he outjumped Peter Shilton and saw him score a header. Some nearby monitors offered a few nonconclusive replays, so we didn’t pay too much attention to it. Then five minutes later came the goal of the century, the most impressive, best goal I have ever witnessed in all of the goals I have called in my life. When Diego started his slalom past midfield, I remember that I and my colleagues from El Gráfico magazine for which I was working that June 22 day started a slow-motion, synchronized move out of our seats that concluded after the goal was scored with a giant hug between all of us. I had tears, a lot of tears, in my eyes, some friends were outright crying, we kept hugging like it was the stroke of midnight on New Years’ Eve or a birthday celebration. We all knew we had witnessed history. So much so that it is so vivid in my mind as if it would have happened last weekend.

— Andres Cantor, Telemundo’s chief World Cup commentator

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Mexico vs. Italy in 2002. Nobody was betting on Mexico to get out of the 'Group of Death.' Everyone thought we were the weakest team, but we ended up being a surprise. Mexico finished first in the group. I remember the Jared Borgetti goal, a header. It was one of the best goals I’ve seen. We didn’t win, but we also didn’t lose like everyone thought.

— Fidel Mártinez Sr.

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One of the first fútbol moments that had a definitive impact in how I see the game was Senegal’s win over France in the 2002 World Cup. I still remember El Hadji Diouf’s gambeta and speed, and Papa Bouba Diop’s dance after scoring what ended up being the winner. Senegal’s performance in that World Cup taught me that anything is possible on the world’s biggest stage, as they went all the way to the quarterfinals. I just hope that one day it will be El Tri’s turn.

— Nayib Morán Rivera

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2018. It was my first time in Europe and I was traveling with some fraternity brothers. When we got to Moscow for the game against Germany, it was as if every type of Mexican that God has ever created was there. You had people from places like California, New York, Texas, Michoacán and Jalisco. Right away we all just bonded. You could feel the energy as we walked to the stadium, and once inside all you saw was a sea of green. That’s when it hit me that we were the home team. Sure, we were playing Germany in Europe, but we outnumbered them. And then the national anthem started playing. I just got goosebumps. It made me think about growing up and being with my parents and family as we watched the 1986 World Cup. I’ve been to big collegiate games at the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum but nothing compared to this. When Chucky Lozano scored, things went to another level. We cheered, but that’s when the nervousness set in. We’re Mexico fans, after all, so we were all just waiting for something bad to happen. But nothing ever did. We actually won. I remember the joy of everyone leaving that stadium, the train ride back. We all celebrated well into the night.

— Edgar Navarro

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I’m going to share my happiest and saddest World Cup memory. By the way, this is also an admission of guilt.

This story starts with a horrifying green pair of lucky socks I own. They're ancient — the color of rotten vegetables and have avocado prints on them. But if I wear them, Argentina has a better chance of winning.

Now that you know that, I’m going to take you to the World Cup final of 2014. Led by Leo Messi, Argentina was going against Germany. I remember feeling this mix of joy and melancholy: My grandpa would have been so happy about this.

But I also remember it being very hot outside that day, and I made a split-second decision: I decided not to put the socks on.

So me and a friend went to a bar to watch the match. The game was very contested, and went to extra time.

Argentina lost.

As soon as they did, I walked out, crying, looking silently at my unsocked feet.

You better believe those socks are coming out of storage this weekend.

— Jasmine Garsd, criminal justice correspondent at National Public Radio and the host of "La última copa/The Last Cup"

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This was an especially big one. It was in 1994 when the U.S. hosted the games. I worked for La Opinión then, sponsors of the World Cup, so I had access to many games at the Rose Bowl. To be honest with you, I’m not sure if it was the game between Argentina and Romania. Perhaps it was the final between Italy and Brazil. It was in one of those games that Pete Wilson got up to the mic and the whole stadium literally booed him so loud they drowned out whatever he was attempting to say. Goosebumps ran up and down my body. I clapped and applauded in joy!! No surprise, given that the [campaign for] anti-immigrant Prop. 187 was in full swing, which Pete Wilson solidly supported. Perhaps someone who is a real fútbol aficionado will remember at which game this happened.

[Editor's note: Wilson was booed at the group match between Colombia and Romania.]

— Susanna Fránek

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My passion for the World Cup is rooted in my parents, both of whom are Mexican immigrants. As new residents of this country, their first love became baseball, thanks to their proximity to Dodger Stadium in the 1970s.

But what was already in their DNA was their love of soccer.

And for their generation, the 1970 World Cup in Mexico was a formative event. The semifinals featured all former World Cup champions (Brazil, Uruguay, West Germany and Italy) and had an epic West Germany-Italy showdown, known as “The Match of the Century” that my father talks about endlessly (there’s a reason there’s a plaque outside Estadio Azteca commemorating it).

The enduring image of that World Cup, of course, is Pelé celebrating triumphantly after Brazil won its third championship by routing an exhausted Italy.

So it was those seeds that were planted in me in the 1980s as I came of age and became aware of the spectacle and the pageantry of sports. The first World Cup I remember vividly was 1986, another one hosted by Mexico after Colombia had to back out. Argentina, regardless of how you felt about Diego Armando Maradona, was a worthy champion that year.

For the rest of my life, the World Cup became appointment viewing and an event by which I marked the passage of time. By sheer coincidence, I was always in a different location for each final.

Whether it was my grandfather’s rancho in Jalisco (1990, on a family vacation), the press room in Madison Square Garden (1998, when I was an intern at the New York Times), the Washington Post newsroom (2010, working as the sports desk’s copy chief), or my living room in Seattle (2018, watching intently with teenage sons), the World Cup has never been far from my sports-loving heart.

And it was always reinforced by my parents, those people who introduced me to this event so many years ago. No matter where I was situated, we were always watching it together. For the last several finals, that meant talking plenty on the phone — marveling at the artistry of Brazil, the precision of Spain, the youthful exuberance of France.

As we embark on another edition, I look forward to the new memories — and the many phone calls with my parents.

— Ed Guzman, Los Angeles Times deputy sports editor

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Germany 2006. My son and I had tickets to watch the U.S. play Italy in Kaiserslautern and Ghana in Nuremburg in the group stage. For a week and a half, we did nothing but eat, sleep and football. Germany was buzzing — flags everywhere, official and unofficial fan fests in every city and town. The high point for me was the Italy vs. USA match. The stadium was old and small and steep, and you felt like the entire crowd was on top of the pitch. The U.S. was coming off a thorough 3-0 drubbing by the Czechs and needed a result. Italy was on its way to winning the World Cup, beating France in the Zidane head-butt match. But not on that day — it was the only match that Italy did not win in the tournament. There were three red cards — one for Italy and two for the U.S. — so Italy had one extra player for the entire second half and the score was tied at 1. Kasey Keller at goalie had a day only surpassed by Tim Howard against Belgium in 2014. A constant cheer of "Ka-sey Kel-ler" rang out while beers were thrown toward the field. I've been to Super Bowls, Stanley Cup games and March Madness, and I've never seen a crowd as torqued up — and the players responded. National pride on the line will do that. As we walked out at the end, I told my son, then 12 years old, that in a way I felt sorry for him because I was pretty sure he had seen the greatest live sporting event of his life, and he was still so young. Then I reached over to tousle his hair and found it was completely wet. Mine was, too. We had been soaked by the constant rain of beer.

— Scott Burt

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My fondest memory of my favorite team at the World Cup took place in 1994. I was with my family and we saw the greatest save. Mexico was playing Bulgaria and there was a penalty kick. Jorge Campos, Mexico’s goalie, blocked the kick! I remember how happy my family was. I hold that memory close to my heart. Now in 2022, I still cheer for Mexico and for their goalie, Memo Ochoa. I hope to create a similar memory with my husband and son!

— Belinda Campos Bresnahan

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.