The surprising story behind this famous picture of Diego Maradona

The image of El Diez versus Belgium is one we all know. But does it actually show what we always thought?

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AS ICONIC AS this photograph is, I have no idea who took it. Type “Maradona Belgium” into Google Images and many of the results are of this image. Type in simply “Maradona” and it comes up fairly quickly, too.

What the photograph shows us is six Belgian players all watching what Diego Maradona is doing. (The game was Belgium and Argentina’s first group game at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, at the Camp Nou in Barcelona.) What we take from the photograph is further confirmation of what we already know: Maradona was utterly fantastic. And that is what the photograph is intended to do.

But there’s a lot that the photograph does not tell us. Aside from not telling us that Belgium won the game 1-0 (Erwin Vandenbergh, 62′), the photograph is a little bit deceiving.

On YouTube, there are two videos of highlights from the game. (1st half2nd half.) The moment in the photograph is about one minute and fifteen seconds into the second video.

Maradona is fouled, and the referee awards Argentina a free kick, and gives a yellow card to Luc Millecamps.

Osvaldo Ardiles takes a short free kick, passing it to Maradona.

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And this is where we see the moment that the photograph was taken. Maradona had not even touched the ball at this point. His left foot is raised ready to receive the ball.

We can see in the video Ardiles is about to run directly through the Belgian players who made up the wall. And all of those players who, in the photograph, look like they are there to stop Maradona being awesome, are actually just breaking out of being a wall, eyes following the ball. Maradona attempts to cross the ball to a teammate on the left side of the box, but it’s cleared by Millecamps.

The photograph… well, it tricks us. Nonetheless, it’s a cool photo, and it illustrates a point beautifully: Maradona was fucking amazing.

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