The referee at the centre of Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal at the 1986 World Cup has broken his silence about his decision to award one of the football’s most controversial goals to Argentina — and has claimed it was not his fault.
Ali Bennaceur, the Tunisian referee, has blamed his Bulgarian linesman Bogdan Dotchev for failing to alert him to the moment when Maradona punched the ball past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton to give Argentina the lead in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final in Mexico’s Azteca Stadium.
“Look at the video: Why do you think I am running backwards? In fact, I was looking at my Bulgarian assistant until I got to the halfway line, seeing if he would perhaps point out something to me, because I had some doubt,” said Bennaceur 28 years after the event.
“I had not seen the hand. If I was [refereeing] in Africa, I would have disallowed the goal. But before the game, Fifa gave us clear guidelines: ‘If your colleague is better placed than you are, his decision should take precedence.’ That’s what I did: my assistant did not raise his flag.
“Moreover, for three years, at the end of every year, he would write me a little note that always said the same thing: ‘My brother, my colleague, there was only the hand of Shilton.’ After that he stopped writing. He had to revise his view of the goal.”
Bennaceur also claimed Fifa were happy with his performance in the game, giving him a score of 9.4 out of 10 — the third best of any official at that World Cup.
The Tunisian was particularly pleased with his role in Maradona’s second goal. “I took part in the goal of the century,” he said in an interview with French magazine So Foot. “Maradona did not score that all by himself, that goal. I was his assistant: I played three advantages. I did not have to. For the first foul, he stumbled. The second came just on the edge of the area. I shouted, ‘Advantage, advantage’. And when he entered the area, I was expecting Butcher to slice him down. I put my whistle to my lips, I was ready to intervene but I didn’t blow.
“Maradona was hard to referee, you had to be on your guard. He was capable of anything: cheating, dribbling, provoking the opponent. When I followed him, I did not have three eyes, I had four. I was like his shadow.”
Ultimately, Bennaceur remains convinced he was blameless for the events of June 22, 1986. “The referees’ representative told me what was said [by the referees’ committee],” he added. “‘The African applied the letter of the law according to Fifa. But the linesman should be slaughtered.’”
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