x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

'Hand of God' brings a pope from Argentina, Maradona says

Football legend says the same 'hand of God' brought the papacy to Argentina as helped it to win the 1986 World Cup.

ROME // The same "hand of God" brought the papacy to Argentina as helped it to the 1986 World Cup, says Diego Maradona, the football legend whose famously illicit, handled goal against England still excites passions.

In a letter to Rome's Il Messaggero newspaper on Wednesday from his base in Dubai, Maradona, 52, described himself as a devout Roman Catholic and said he rejoiced at the election of his compatriot Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis.

"I am truly very happy and I am certain that my enthusiasm is shared by the whole Argentinian people," he wrote.

"Everybody in Argentina can remember 'the hand of God' in the England match in the 1986 World Cup. Now the 'hand of God' has brought us an Argentinian pope."

In a quarter-final tie in 1986, Maradona eliminated England with two goals, one a brilliant solo run, the other a handball that the referee mistook for a header.

He said afterwards that the goal was scored "a little with the head of Maradona, a little with the hand of God".

That remark still rankles in England, where the Sun newspaper's splash on the Argentinian pope showed Francis raising his arm in benediction with the headline: "Hand of God".