Long-lost photo of Diego Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal discovered in attic days before the 2022 Qatar World Cup
(Photo provided to VAVEL by Betting America / Joe O'Connell - 2022)

Forever engraved into the memory of England fans and inscribed as international football's most iconic moment, Diego Maradona's opening goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final was shrouded in controversy.

Be that as it may, it's certainly fitting that a fan-taken photo of the infamous moment has been unearthed days before the start of what should be the greatest show on Earth but is undermined by its politically-turbulent Qatari backcloth. 

Locked away for 36 years in a dusty box, left undisturbed in a  Sligo attic, the small town in the northwest of Ireland can lay claim to being the home of one of football's most famous photographs. 

Thanks to Joe O'Connell, who is the only known fan among 115,000 at the Azteca Stadium to capture Maradona's self-proclaimed "Hand of God" goal, VAVEL are delighted to release the photo on behalf of Betting America.

  • A once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon

When discussing the photo that would unknowingly become highly sought-after, Joe, understandably couldn't contain his excitement.

Asked about how it came about, he said: "It was pure luck!"

"Firstly, that photo might never have been. I had only borrowed a 35mm camera from a friend before leaving Sligo, to take some holiday snaps to remember… needless to say this was decades before the days of smartphones with cameras!

"I actually had no idea how to use the camera properly and had to go to a store in Florida to be shown which film was needed for it, and how to use the functions on the camera.

"Secondly, I was watching the game and was sporadically taking photos throughout the game. I hadn’t anticipated it might come about at that moment, as I assumed Shilton would be able to outjump the 5′ 5″ Argentinian maestro. It was only after hearing the stadium erupt that I figured Argentina had somehow scored."

  • The day England became El Pibe de Oro's property

In 1986, Maradona was in his peak years. Although 18 goal involvements in 31 appearances for Napoli across all competitions didn't advocate a player who had the world at his feet, his exploits in Mexico may never be matched.

Instrumental in Argentina's triumphant road to World Cup superiority were Maradona's five goals and five assists in seven games - an output that hasn't been matched before or since Mexico 86. Moreover, no player on the world stage managed more than six goal involvements.

Any nation that was put against La Selección was doomed from the start, and England was no different. With 51 minutes on the clock, Maradona jumped to head the ball but subtly used his hand to get to the ball before England goalkeeper Peter Shilton - as spectacular as it was at first glance, it may have clouded the judgements of the referee and his linesman as the goal was given.

The misunderstanding between the referees was something shared in the stands. "At that moment, I had no idea that such a significant goal had just been scored due to the language barrier around me," Joe said.

"The Brazilian fans, that I was amongst, kept pointing to me and tapping and waving their hands to me. I didn’t really understand what they meant, I just presumed they thought I was English and were having some friendly banter with me after conceding a goal.

"I knew Maradona had scored somehow, but not the context of how the ball made its way into the English net. It was much later that night after seeing media coverage and replays of the goal itself that I wondered whether I might have caught that controversial moment in football history.

"A few days later, after I got the film developed, I realized that I had got so close to providing definitive proof that his hand had indeed steered the ball towards goal."

  • The Goal of the Century

Remarkably, although the Hand of God will be spoken about until the end of time, what followed just four minutes later was arguably just as exciting as Maradona's opener. 

Crowned as the FIFA World Cup Goal Of The Century, the neutrals in Estadio Azteca were greeted like a warm hug to a football match glittered with astonishing goals as the Argentinian second proved as magical as their first.

Describing the goal, Joe said: "I hadn’t thought much about it when he gathered the ball just inside his own half. It was only after he glided by a couple of players and approached the English box that I wondered what he might be able to do against the English defence.

"Seeing how natural it was for him to dribble past top players and score such a truly wonderful goal on the biggest stage in world football, you could tell you were seeing a talent that might only come about once every generation or two.

"It was quite an unbelievable moment. For me, that moment was far more memorable. It was only later I realized the significance of the “Hand of God” goal."

  • From Lanús to Rosario, on behalf of every little boy wearing white and blue

As one Argentian legend passes the baton to the next, Lionel Messi is, to a great degree, the modern incarnation of Diego Maradona. His fleeting movement with the ball and the fluent, meticulous preservation of his flair can be compared only to the relationship between a poet and his pen. 

The 2022 Qatar World Cup stages the little boy from Rosario's final dance at international level. Messi on a million backs, Messi for a million flashbulbs, it feels written in the stars for Argentina to go all the way.

Here's what Joe had to say about his predictions for the tournament:

"In the context of the Hand of God photo, there would be a sense of things coming back full circle if another Argentinian No.10 and one of the greatest players to play the game, Lionel Messi, was to guide Argentina to World Cup glory in what will be his last World Cup appearance. I think that would be quite fitting."

*Photos and quotes provided by Betting America. Please gamble responsibly. GamCare offer a free and confidential service for those who may require further support*  

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