The story of the 1986 World Cup
Between now and the start of the World Cup, we will be looking back at previous tournaments with the help of some of the key characters and the BBC's archive footage. Today, we speak to the man who brought back the 1986 Golden Boot but was powerless to stop the best player on the planet from getting his hands on the main prize.
Mexico, May & June, 1986
It was a World Cup that produced many memorable matches and a succession of stunning goals but, while there were many stars of Mexico '86, the tournament will only ever belong to one man: Diego Armando Maradona.
At the peak of his powers and in formidable form, Maradona's individual contribution to Argentina's triumph was immense. The 25-year-old did not quite win the World Cup all on his own but at times - notably in a pulsating 2-1 win over England in the quarter-finals - it looked like he was capable of doing so.
In the space of four minutes during that match, the little maestro scored two of the most famous goals in footballing history. The first, notoriously, with his hand and the second, gloriously, at the end of a magical solo run.
England's players protested in vain about Maradona's illegal opener but even they recognised the magnificence of what followed. When I spoke to Gary Lineker about it a few days ago, he told me: "That second goal was the one time in my life where I felt like I ought to applaud the opposition. I didn't, because I was gutted, but it was undoubtedly the greatest goal I had ever seen."
Diego's dribble was voted the 'goal of the century' in a global poll on the Fifa website in 2002 but it had to be extra-special just to be the best of a spectacular tournament, played out in searing temperatures in a country that had been devastated by a huge earthquake just a few months before.
As a nine-year-old tasting my first World Cup, the action seemed to be taking place on another planet, not just the other side of the world. My living room was lit up by a glut of eye-catching strikes, including a couple of corkers by hitherto-unknown Brazilian right-back Josimar, a net-buster for the Soviet Union by Vasily Rats and Manuel Negrete's scissor-kick for the hosts.
Most teams seemed hell-bent on attacking too. Outsiders Denmark, who had their own playmaker in Michael Laudrup and a goal-machine in the shape of the bustling Hellas Verona striker Preben Elkjaer, lived up to their 'Danish Dynamite' tag by sweeping through the toughest group with wins over Scotland and West Germany and, satisfyingly, the complete destruction of a cynical Uruguay team.
The Soviets also only knew one way to play; to go for goal, while Brazil's ageing superstars thrilled in the same way they had done in Spain four years earlier and European champions France, inspired by Michel Platini, were also still full of flair. Those three sides all cruised through to round two but not every nation was finding things so easy.
England, struggling to impose themselves in the sweltering heat in Monterrey, lost their first game to an unheralded Portugal side and were in deeper trouble after a 0-0 draw with surprise-package Morocco, during which they lost their injury prone captain Bryan Robson to a dislocated shoulder and had the usually mild-mannered Ray Wilkins sent off for throwing the ball at the referee.
"We were getting pilloried back home, which is the norm when England don't start particularly well," remembers Lineker. "But we weren't really aware of it at the time. We were cocooned in our hotel without any TV that was watchable or even a landline back to the UK so we were able to focus on our final match. We knew what we had to do - beat Poland to go through."
They did exactly that, with Lineker - sporting a cast to protect a broken wrist - scoring a first-half hat-trick to secure a 3-0 win that put them in the knockout stages, but Scotland and Northern Ireland were both on the plane home after failing to win any of their group games.
Scotland's exit was typically frustrating as they floundered to a 0-0 draw with 10-man Uruguay when a win would have seen them progress. The South American champions, by now renowned for their persistent foul play, had Jose Batista sent off after just 56 seconds for a wild challenge on Gordon Strachan, but easily held out to go through instead.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's last act was to be outclassed by a Brazil side who finished 4-0 victors in a game that featured Josimar's first blockbusting goal and a spontaneous galloping celebration - both of which were doubtless imitated, or at least attempted, in countless playgrounds and parks around the world at the earliest opportunity. They certainly were at my school.
The second round saw the end of the swashbuckling Soviets, who went down 4-3 to Belgium in a thriller, and also the self-destruction of the popular Danes, who led 1-0 against Spain but lost their way after a disastrous back-pass by Jesper Olsen gifted Emilio Butragueno an equaliser before half-time. Butragueno went on to score three more goals in the final 34 minutes as the Scandinavians departed in complete disarray and on the wrong end of a 5-1 tonking.
France were too good for the holders Italy in their first knockout match and survived an epic encounter with Brazil in Guadalajara in the quarter-finals that was cruelly decided on a penalty shoot-out. Sadly, not many modern-day World Cup games are as good as this one was, and it deserves more attention than I have space for here.
England were also on the move and, buoyed by their resurgence against Poland, easily brushed aside Paraguay with Lineker scoring two more goals. Their reward was a last-eight clash with Argentina; the only unbeaten team left in the tournament and the country Britain had fought in the Falklands War just four years earlier.
Against that simmering backdrop, and in front of an expectant crowd of 114,580 at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, Argentina's number 10 took centre stage - but the game did not reach boiling point until just after half-time.
It was then that Maradona - who let's remember is just 5ft 4in - jumped to beat Peter Shilton to Steve Hodge's attempted back-pass and flicked the ball into the net with his left hand. Despite his attempt to disguise his actions, which he later described as "a little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God", it appeared an obvious handball to everyone but Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser, who allowed the goal to stand.
That was quickly followed by the moment when the kid from a Buenos Aires shanty town became a fully fledged footballing god. Picking up the ball inside his own half, Maradona - seemingly in slow-motion - beat four England players as he surged into the area, rounded Shilton and prodded home his shot.
England had little choice but to attack and the game took another twist when wingers John Barnes and Chris Waddle came off the bench. Barnes helped set up a tense finish when he crossed for Lineker to head home his sixth goal of the tournament with 10 minutes left, but England could not conjure up a second goal.
"Once we got back in the game, we were piling on the pressure," Lineker recalled. "We nearly equalised too - I still don't know how we didn't, but the ball somehow hit the back of Julio Olarticoechea's head when I got on the end of another cross. I'm still not sure how it didn't go in but, if it had done, we had the impetus and the momentum and we might have gone on to win the game.
"But could we have done anything to stop Maradona? No. We were not a team that could do man-to-man marking because that was not how the English played then. We had plans to close him down, which is what we endeavoured to do, but keeping him quiet is something else and, in any case, there is not much you can do if somebody punches the ball into the net.
"Without the first goal, would he have got the second? Probably not. But you have to recognise Argentina were the best side in the tournament and, in Diego, they had the outstanding player."
The consolation for Lineker was that his six goals brought him the Golden Boot and a lucrative move from Everton to Spain's La Liga. "It changed my life dramatically," he told me. "When I went to Mexico I was known a little bit in the UK, but I left known throughout the world as the top scorer in the World Cup, which is why I could go to Barcelona. That's what World Cups can do - they can make you or break you."
Eight years later, at USA '94, Maradona would find that out the hard way when his career was left in ruins by a failed drugs test. Here, however, he reigned supreme and scored two more superb goals to see off a stubborn Belgium side in the semi-finals and set up a showdown with West Germany in the final.
The Germans had improved steadily since the start of their campaign but their excellence was in their efficiency and experience. They had the discipline to fight back from 2-0 down and equalise with 10 minutes to go but, although Maradona was kept quiet for most of the match by the attention of Lothar Matthaus, he rightly had the last word - finding a precisely weighted pass to release Jorge Burruchaga to score the winner.
After his disappointing showing in Spain four years earlier, Maradona had the trophy and also the legacy he craved. As Burruchaga would later explain: "He was determined to improve on the 1982 World Cup and the image he had left - he told us as much himself and his motivation rubbed off on all of us. Going into the tournament everyone thought Platini was the main man but Diego was simply magnificent, and proved he was the best in the world."
Watch the top 10 goals from Mexico 86 (UK only)
Watch the classic quarter-final between Brazil and France (UK only)Watch the seven-goal thriller between USSR and Belgium (UK only)
Watch the infamous "Hand of God" quarter-final (UK only)
Watch Argentina's victory over West Germany in the final (UK only)
Let me know your memories of 1986. On Wednesday - with the help of a famous striker with bulging eyes - we look back at 1990, when we saw Roger Milla's famous dance and Gazza's tears before the tournament ended with a German triumph.