Football: Time has healed wounds caused by 'flawed genius' Maradona, says England's Steven

A mural depicting the infamous 'Hand of God' goal by Diego Maradona. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - Time has healed the wounds that Diego Maradona inflicted on England at the 1986 World Cup and he should be remembered for his achievements in football rather than for scoring its most infamous goal, former England midfielder Trevor Steven has said.

Maradona died after suffering a heart attack at his home in the suburbs of Buenos Aires on Wednesday (Nov 25), less than a month after his 60th birthday.

Thirty-four years ago, Argentina knocked England out in the World Cup quarter-finals in Mexico with Maradona scoring two goals in the space of four minutes.

His first was immortalised in football folklore as the 'Hand of God' goal after the diminutive Argentinian, at just 1.65m, leapt in front of onrushing England goalkeeper Peter Shilton to touch the ball into the empty net with his fist.

The second was the product of a mazy run past half the England team to score what was later known as the 'Goal of the Century'.

"He scored the most infamous goal in world football history and also the most iconic and fantastic goal considering the situation," Steven, who was on the pitch that day at the Azteca Stadium, told Reuters.

"The quarter-final of a World Cup played at 9,000 feet above sea level and in temperatures above 100 deg Fahrenheit (37.8 deg C)... playing in those conditions was a challenge in itself but when you look at the level he took the game to, it was almost unbelievable."

England were incensed at the manner of Maradona's first goal and Shilton has said that he would never forgive Maradona.

For the goalkeeper, the bitterness clearly still rankles as he says that while Maradona had greatness in him, his refusal to apologise proved he lacked sportsmanship.

"A clear offence. Cheating," he wrote in the Daily Mail. "As he ran away to celebrate he even looked back twice, as if waiting for the referee's whistle. He knew what he had done. Everybody did - apart from the referee and two linesmen."

Shilton said the first goal was the one that mattered.

"I don't care what anybody says, it won the game for Argentina," he added.

"He scored a brilliant second almost immediately, but we were still reeling from what had happened minutes earlier ... It has bothered me over the years. I won't lie about that now.

"It seems he had greatness in him but sadly no sportsmanship... Most of the England team who played in Mexico feel the way I do to this day," the 71-year-old said.

"On the football field, players do things that maybe they shouldn't do. It happens in the heat of the moment. But if that had been anyone from our England team, I would like to think he would have admitted it afterwards.

"I hope it doesn't taint Maradona's legacy."

'Cheated and got away'

Steven said that his teammates were justifiably angry.

"He cheated and got away with it. He never looked to own up to what he had done," the former Everton, Burnley and Rangers midfielder said.

"It set us on the road to elimination from the World Cup. We felt we had been robbed of a potential opportunity.

"I certainly feel I admired him but I didn't know whether to like him or loathe him as an individual because of the effect his action had on England but also on that group of players and on myself personally."

Time, however, has softened the blow for the 57-year-old.

"As time goes by, the feelings get diluted somewhat and the wounds healed," Steven said. "You could take Maradona for what he was - a genius footballer, a flawed genius with his lifestyle, but with his footballing ability he was out there on his own.

"Of all the great players around the world, no one could do what he could do. That (the Hand of God) was a split second but he had 15 years of professional football where he... won the highest honours.

"So we need to remember him for those achievements rather than being very parochial or personal about that day way back in June 1986."

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