By Abba Gwale
Tunisian former referee Ali Bin Nasser, who officiated the 1986 World Cup quarter-final in which Diego Maradona scored his famous double against England, hailed the Argentinian as a “genius” following his death, aged 60, on Wednesday.
Bin Nasser admitted that he doubted the validity of Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal, but said the football legend’s second strike in the game was a “masterpiece”.
In the 51st minute of a politically-charged last-eight clash in Mexico, four years after the Falklands War, Maradona outjumped England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and punched the ball into the net to give his country the lead.
“I didn’t see the hand, but I had a doubt,” Bin Nasser, the first Tunisian to referee a World Cup quarter-final, told AFP.
“You can see the pictures — I stepped back to take the advice of my assistant, Bulgarian (Bogdan) Dochev, and when he said it was good, I gave the goal.”
The 76-year-old said he believed he was a go-to man for FIFA in tough matches, and that world football’s governing body gave him a high rating for his performance in the game.
“I had already refereed a match between the USSR and China in 1985, I was the man of difficult missions for FIFA,” Bin Nasser said.
“FIFA gave me a 9.4 on this game, I did what I had to do, but there was confusion — Dochev later indicated that he had seen two arms, and he didn’t know if it was Shilton’s or Maradona’s.”
Argentina secured their place in the semi-finals of a tournament they would go on to win when Maradona put them two goals ahead with a strike later voted the ‘Goal of the Century’.
The then-Napoli star evaded six England players’ attempts to either tackle or foul him during a mesmerising run from the halfway line, before prodding into an empty net.
“I was ready to whistle for a dangerous foul on Maradona,” remembered Bin Nasser of a goal which proved to be the winner after Gary Lineker pulled one back for England.
“I thought after 50 yards of effort they were going to bring him down.
“I was proud to participate in that masterpiece.”
Maradona visited Bin Nasser 29 years later while shooting an advertisement in Tunisia, giving him a T-shirt bearing the words “To my eternal friend Ali”.
“We had a good time, I told him that that day, it was not Argentina who won, but him, Maradona.
“He was a genius, a football legend. As a referee, I did not allow myself to close my eyes even for a second when following him, because he was capable of anything.”