MEXICO CITY — Diego Armando Maradona single-handedly knocked England out of the World Cup on Sunday.
That he did so illegally is beyond doubt. That he did so brilliantly is without question.
Maradona, the pudgy midfield millionaire from Buenos Aires, scored two goals within a five-minute span early in the second half, and that was enough to give Argentina a 2-1 quarterfinal victory over England in front of an Azteca Stadium crowd of 100,000.
But the first of the goals should not have been allowed. Maradona clearly knocked the ball into the net with his forearm while giving the appearance of trying to head it.
The second goal, however, was so stunningly conceived and superbly executed that it almost made up for the first.
This, then, is the tale of two goals--one that soured Maradona's English fans and one that won them back.
The game began at noon, but it was after 1 p.m. before it came to life. The first half was a dull, insipid affair that contained nothing worthy of mention, both teams more intent on not yielding a goal than in trying to create one.
Then, just six minutes into the second half, Maradona and English goalkeeper Peter Shilton found themselves each leaping to reach a ball that had been flicked back into the goal mouth by an English defender.
Television replays from four angles showed that Shilton tried to punch the ball clear but missed, and that Maradona, using his body and head as a screen, knocked it into the net with his forearm.
Shilton and the rest of the English players immediately protested, Shilton running all the way to the halfway line and indicating that Maradona had used his arm, not his head. But Tunisian referee Ali Ben Naceur and Bulgarian linesman Bogdan Dotschev ignored their pleas.
English Coach Bobby Robson was not about to let Maradona's unsportsmanlike tactic go unmentioned, however, and afterward said it had caused his team to lose.
"The first goal of the match was always going to be crucial, it was that close of a game," he said. "Argentina maybe had the better of the exchanges, but neither side looked as though it was capable of scoring more than two goals in the match.
"So the first goal was always going to be crucial, and I'm very unhappy about the first goal. I mean, that cost us the result.
"I haven't seen the television at all. All I can go on is what I felt I saw, which was the ball in the air with Maradona going for it with Shilton, Shilton being favorite. And Maradona handled the ball into the goal, didn't he? Didn't he?"
Not until one or two reporters in the interview room begrudgingly agreed did Robson continue.
"I think he did and I suppose television will prove it, but that was the way it was to me. That now gives them the edge. That's a bad decision in a very big match. You don't expect decisions like that at World Cup level."
Asked what Shilton, the English captain, had said afterward in the locker room, Robson replied:
"Well, naturally he was very upset because he knew how he had been beaten. . . . I mean, he saw the thing clearly. He was right on the spot. No one was close to him and he was obviously more than certain and positive that he had been beaten illegally. That's what upset him."
Argentine Coach Carlos Bilardo denied that Maradona had handled the ball.
"Well, if Maradona headed it in, I think it was all right," he said. "We saw that Maradona jumped and then headed in the ball."
The goal, which came in the 51st minute, was followed by another just four minutes later. This one was the result of a magnificent individual effort by Maradona, who almost seemed to be trying to make up for his earlier lapse in character.
The move began at midfield, where Maradona slipped through between two English players and set off on a dazzling run down the right wing, gradually cutting in toward the goal.
Along the way, he left a trail of at least four would-be defenders, each one of them fooled by either a marvelous piece of ball control or a subtle feint or change of pace and direction.
Even Robson, angry as he was at the earlier goal, had to applaud the run, which ended with Maradona sliding the ball into the open net, Shilton, too, having been fooled.
Robson was asked by an Argentine reporter whether he thinks Maradona is the World Cup's best player.
"Arguably, I suppose," he replied. "There are lots of great players in this World Cup. But today he scored one of the most brilliant goals you will ever see. The first goal was dubious, the second goal was a miracle. It was a fantastic goal.
"It's marvelous for football that every now and again the world produces players like Maradona. I have the greatest respect for him in terms of his quality, his genius, his marvelous skills, his pace, the way he can read people.
"I didn't like the second goal, but I had to admire it."
What it did was to leave England 2-0 behind with just 35 minutes remaining. To their credit, the English did not fold. They responded by dominating the final half hour and managed to pull a goal back when Gary Lineker headed home a cross from John Barnes in the 81st minute to make it 2-1.
The goal was Lineker's sixth in five games, making him the tournament's leading goal scorer. He will not get the chance to add to that total, however, because, like the rest of the English players Sunday, he was beaten--handily.