This story was originally published on July 22, 1994.
Diego Maradona, one of soccer’s all-time legends, died on Nov. 25, 2020. Here’s our report from the game in which he scored his last World Cup goal for Argentina, a 4-0 win over Greece at Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
FOXBORO, Mass. — Gabriel Batistuta of Argentina scored the first hat trick of this World Cup yesterday. It might be the first hat trick of any World Cup that went virtually unnoticed.
Diego Maradona was on the field. That’s all anyone saw.
Two minutes before the game began, Maradona started clapping his hands above his head — and instantly, thousands of Argentines were clapping with him. An instant later, thousands of Greeks were booing.
Who saw anything else?
Batistuta put away goal No. 1, and the crowd was singing, Ole . . . Ole, Ole, Ole . . . Di-eee-gooo.
Goal No. 2 for Batistuta, and up in the stands, Roberto Giordano, the most famous hairdresser in Argentina, was jumping around shaking his huge Maradona poster, personally signed by his good friend during the glorious 1986 World Cup.
Right after Batistuta scored goal No. 3, on a penalty kick in the last minute of the game, Greece’s coach complained that his own players had come to take a picture, not to play soccer.
“Even after the game, they were so happy they played with Maradona,” said Alkis Panagoulias, whose team lost, 4-0, in its first World Cup game ever.
For his legions of loyal fans, a good many wearing his No. 10 on their own backs, it was so wonderful that Maradona, Argentina’s playmaker, was chipping his perfect passes around the midfield and breaking a little sweat. But early in the second half, Argentina flooded Greece’s goal area and the ball was nudged toward Maradona, about 18 yards out.
Boom. His rifle shot stretched the back of the net. Maradona had scored his first goal for Argentina in a tournament game in seven years!
The hairdresser started running up and down aisles with his poster, and Maradona was racing around pumping his fists, and another grown man held up another sign. Diego Sos Mi Dios. You are my God.
Time didn’t stand still. It backed up.
Gone was the fat little man who had fired an air gun at reporters outside his home last year, who had been banned from the sport for 15 months for cocaine use and sacked by clubs on two continents for lack of fitness.
Back was the charisma, the Maradona who could get away with scoring a goal with his hand in the ’86 Cup and then proclaim that “the hand of God” had scored the goal.
Maradona, 33, looked joyful on the field, exulting each time Batistuta scored, and giving him a giant bearhug afterward. His stomach was trim. His hair was short and stylish.
He didn’t run much. In the first half, Greece, which could be the weakest team in the World Cup, shadowed Maradona with a large midfielder who tugged and held Maradona and knocked him down and walked around the field step for step with him.
Panagiotis Tsalouchidis picked up a yellow warning card for a knockdown. A second one would have put him out of the game, so Greece stopped shadowing Maradona in the second half. Maradona said they acted “very wisely” in doing this.
Once, early in the game, when Tsalouchidis knocked Maradona down — and as Maradona struggled heroically to his feet and limped around the grounds — Tsalouchidis kept trying to shake his hand. Maradona ignored this.
“He’s magic. But he didn’t do too much,” Panagoulias, the Greek coach, said of Maradona. “It’s very much obvious that on his team he was the inspiration. "
The huge Argentine crowd, all dressed in Carolina blue and white, didn’t see it that way. If Maradona himself says he is at 60 percent of his former self, his fans put it at 90 percent. His fans love him more than ever, and believe his problems were caused by the Italian Mafia and an ungrateful football establishment and a badgering press.
Of his own game and questions about his stamina leading up to the World Cup, Maradona said, “I have nothing to say. I answered it on the field today. "
What message did he have for his fans?
“Keep your feet on the ground. We played a great game but this is only the beginning . . . perhaps for something greater. I want to give all Argentinians a big hug! "
The news conference was almost as remarkable as the game. Neither Panagoulias nor Argentine coach Alfio Basile was asked a single question about Batistuta and his hat trick. His name never came up.
Never mind that he has scored 26 goals in 34 games and is known as Archangel Gabriel and was the South American Footballer of the Year for 1991 and is a big star in the Italian League. When Batistuta was at the microphone, reporters shouted questions at Maradona.
When the organized session broke up, Maradona walked toward reporters and there was a mad dash of TV cameras and tape-recorders and portable phones.
Batistuta slipped out a side door, where a single TV reporter from Monte Carlo waited to interview him.