Maradona ‘Hand Of God’ Ball Decision Would ays Not Have Given Says Ref Ali Bin Nasser

The match ball from the 1986 FIFA World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and England is being auctioned by the Tunisian referee who claimed it at the end of the notorious game. He insisted that he would not have given it to the match-winner Diego Maradona had the player asked for it after the match.

The iconic Adidas Azteca ball was used throughout the match won 2-1 by Argentina in Mexico City. Every goal scored in the game has gone down in legend as a defining moment in World Cup history. The first was awarded despite the fact that Maradona punched the ball past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, the so-called ‘Hand of God’. The second from Maradona was a mesmerizing dribble past five opposition players which is commonly referred to as ‘The Goal of the Century’. Even England’s consolation goal scored by Gary Lineker was ultimately decisive as it won him the coveted Golden Boot as the tournament’s leading goalscorer ahead of Maradona, who went on to captain Argentina to victory in the final.

The referee who failed to spot the Maradona handball which turned the game, Ali Bin Nasser (also known as Ali Bennaceur), was elected to take charge of the match by the world governing body FIFA. Just four years after The Falklands War, the choice of any English-speaking, European or South American referee risked sparking accusations of bias.

Having officiating at an unprecedented two consecutive finals at the Africa Cup of Nations as well as the politically sensitive 1985 under-20 World Cup quarter-final between the Soviet Union and China, the French and Arabic-speaking Bin Nasser believes FIFA considered him as a safe choice for such a potentially volatile game. Speaking to me from his home in Tunis, Bin Nasser said, “I was an honest referee and I did the best I can.”

Bin Nasser dismisses the fact that not being able to speak English or Spanish hindered his ability to communicate with the England and Argentina players during that match.”In football, the only language we need to speak is from the whistle, the flags of my colleagues and the red and yellow cards. I don’t speak English, but the two words I know is ‘advantage’ and ‘play’. They were the only two words you would hear me say during the game. That’s how I refereed that game, and any game in which I don’t speak the language.”

When Maradona punched the ball in for the disputed first goal, Bin Nasser insists he ceded the responsibility of making the decision to his linesman, Bulgarian Bogdan Dotchev, who was in line with the play. He explained, “FIFA’s instruction before the tournament was that if you did not see an incident clearly, you should take the opinion of your colleague if he was in a better position. I didn’t see the goal but I was going back to the center backwards and I was looking at my colleague the whole time. When he meet me at the halfway line, then it was a goal. He had a better view than me at that time.”

Dotchev, who died in 2017, has an entirely different view of the incident. Speaking to the Bulgarian media in 2013 he admitted that “the ghost of this match will probably haunt me to the grave. . . Refereeing was different then, the rules were different. Linesmen didn’t have the powers they have now to disallow goals, call fouls for cards etc. I had no right to influence the leader. All power on the field was concentrated in the hands of the head referee. Bin Nasser knew only his native French. I speak German and Spanish. As soon as he signals that everything is fine, what can I do? It wasn’t until he started walking with his back to the center that I started too.”

Dochev and the other two officials working on the game, Berny Ulloa from Costa Rica and Idrissa Traoré from Mali, all signed the ball which was kept by Bin Nasser at his Tunisian home for over three decades. When the shirt worn by Maradona during the second half of the game was auctioned in May by Sotheby’s for a then world-record price of $8.96 million, the 78-year-old Bin Nasser began contacting auction houses about the possibility of selling the ball touched by Maradona’s genius.

The English-based auctioneers Graham Budd Auctions Ltd. have made the ball the star exhibit among over 300 pieces of World Cup memorabilia currently available for sale by online bidding. Their estimate on the ball, which has deflated over time and can’t be re-inflated for fear of damaging the interior lining, is between $2.8-3.4 million.

As the match-winner in such a high-profile game, Maradona would have been entitled to ask for the ball as a souvenir of his performance but Bin Nasser is adamant he would not have relinquished it to the player who is revered throughout the world as one of the greatest athletes to grace any sport.

Bin Nasser told me, “FIFA gave very strict instructions to the referees regarding the match-ball, the referee got to keep the ball. After the game, I got my colleagues to sign it for me so I could keep it as a souvenir of the game. That was the pinnacle of my career. I kept it for 36 years and four months so, to answer your question, I would not have given him the ball as FIFA instructed me to keep the ball.”

In August 2015, Maradona visited Bin Nasser at his home in Tunisia and revealed in his 2017 book, Touched By God: How We Won the Mexico ’86 World Cup, that he asked the referee to sign a photo of him holding the ball as the two captains shook hands ahead of the game, a picture which Maradona kept in his personal gym.

Bin Nasser revealed to me that he never had the opportunity to reunite Maradona with the ball with which he created sporting history, “it was in another room”, but he was full of admiration for the man. “He gave me an Argentina jersey and signed it ‘To Ali, my eternal friend’. You see this genius on the field but he’s a totally different human being outside the field. He’s very humble. He was a warm person who loves poor people and loves his country.”

The ‘Hand of God’ ball is currently on auction until November 16.

Author Profile

Stevie Flavio
Film Writer


Leave a Reply