A handy guide to Suarez and Maradona

Two players who cheated to win a World Cup quarter-final will find a world of difference when it comes to forgiveness.

    A lot is being said today about Luis Suarez's deliberate handball that denied Ghana a winning goal in the last seconds of their World Cup quarter-final last night.

    Two camps have emerged – Uruguayans who consider Suarez a hero and those who, to quote one article, "see the handball as cheating".

    Let's not muddy the waters here. It WAS cheating. There can be no argument on that score.

    But the response is, overall, forgiving.  My own feelings veer that way. But why?

    Twenty four years and 11 days ago, in the World Cup quarter-finals in Mexico, Diego Maradona jumped for a high ball with England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and deliberately punched it into the net for a goal.

    Today he takes charge of Argentina in a quarter-final against Germany and his outlook hasn't changed – he would punch the ball into the net from the bench if he could.


    Suarez will not come anywhere near the level of condemnation Maradona received for his "Hand of God". So what is the difference?

    The Uruguayan was, of course, saving a goal whereas Maradona was scoring one. But both did it because they desperately wanted to win the match.

    Aside from footballing reasons, Maradona has stated in his autobiography that he wanted revenge for the Falklands war four years earlier.

    And Suarez was a desperado. Had he not handled Dominic Adiyiah's header, Ghana would have won and Uruguay would be on their way home today.

    There is one major practical difference.

    Unlike Maradona, Suarez's handball was seen by the referee, he was punished with a red card (and a suspension that may be extended to the rest of the World Cup by Fifa), and Ghana still had a golden chance to win. But Asamoah Gyan missed the penalty.

    Morally, it is still not clear-cut. Gyan would not have had to take a penalty if Suarez had not intervened and the young Adiyiah would be an African hero.

    For me, the difference is this. Would you have done the same?

    Ghana's John Pantsil, in the emotion of defeat, said no Ghana player would have handled the ball.

    But in all probability, almost every one of them would have done. Almost everyone in the world would have done.

    Split second

    The ball heads towards your goal in the last seconds of injury time. There is a split-second to react before your World Cup dream is over.

    You don't think, "ooh, I mustn't cheat". You get your hands up, grab the ball and throw it down the other end of the pitch if need be. You do it for yourself, for your teammates and your country and that is why Suarez is a hero in Uruguay today.

    But if you are a striker, 99 times out of 100 you go up for the ball with the goalkeeper fair and square – with your head. There are countless such challenges and a handball is incredibly rare.

    Suarez was forced to react, and he reacted out of fear and the preservation of his team's World Cup campaign, whereas Maradona's act was premeditated and aggressive.

    Twenty four years and counting for forgiveness of Maradona (but just so you know, I'm getting there).

    Outside Ghana, most people will move on from Suarezgate within 24 hours.


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