Tunisian referee who missed ‘Hand of God’ praises Maradona

“As a referee, I did not allow myself to close my eyes even for a second when following him, because he was capable of anything,”said Ali Ben Nasser.
Thursday 26/11/2020
Fans bid farewell to Diego Armando Maradona in front of the government palace, on November 26, 2020, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (DPA)
Fans bid farewell to Diego Armando Maradona in front of the government palace, on November 26, 2020, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (DPA)

TUNIS - A Tunisian former referee who officiated the 1986 World Cup quarter-final in which Diego Maradona scored his famous double against England, hailed the Argentinian as a “genius” following his death, aged 60, on Wednesday.

Ali Bin Nasser admitted that he doubted the validity of Maradona’s infamous “Hand of God” goal, but said the football legend’s second strike in the game was a “masterpiece.”

In the 51st minute of a politically-charged last-eight clash in Mexico, four years after the Falklands War, Maradona out-jumped England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and punched the ball into the net to give his country the lead.

“I didn’t see the hand, but I had a doubt,” Bin Nasser, the first Tunisian to referee a World Cup quarter-final, told AFP.

“You can see the pictures — I stepped back to take the advice of my assistant, Bulgarian (Bogdan) Dochev, and when he said it was good, I gave the goal.”

The 76-year-old said he believed he was a go-to man for FIFA in tough matches, and that world football’s governing body gave him a high rating for his performance in the game.

“I had already refereed a match between the USSR and China in 1985, I was the man of difficult missions for FIFA,” Bin Nasser said.

“FIFA gave me a 9.4 on this game, I did what I had to do, but there was confusion — Dochev later indicated that he had seen two arms, and he didn’t know if it was Shilton’s or Maradona’s.”

Argentina secured their place in the semi-finals of a tournament they would go on to win when Maradona put them two goals ahead with a strike later voted the “Goal of the Century.”

The then-Napoli star evaded six England players’ attempts to either tackle or foul him during a mesmerising run from the halfway line, before prodding into an empty net.

“I was ready to whistle for a dangerous foul on Maradona,” remembered Bin Nasser of a goal which proved to be the winner after Gary Lineker pulled one back for England.

“I thought after 50 yards of effort they were going to bring him down.

“I was proud to participate in that masterpiece.”

Maradona visited Bin Nasser 29 years later while shooting an advertisement in Tunisia, giving him a T-shirt bearing the words “To my eternal friend Ali.”

“We had a good time, I told him that that day, it was not Argentina who won, but him, Maradona.

“He was a genius, a football legend. As a referee, I did not allow myself to close my eyes even for a second when following him, because he was capable of anything.”

Argentines lined up in the streets of Buenos Aires on Thursday to say goodbye to soccer great Diego Maradona, whose casket lay in state at the Casa Rosada presidential palace draped in an Argentine flag and his famous no. 10 shirt.

Maradona died aged 60 following a heart attack at home on Wednesday. Three days of national mourning were called for the player who led Argentina to a 1986 World Cup win and is revered with cult-like status.

The star’s family is hoping to hold the burial on Thursday evening at the Bella Vista cemetery on the outskirts of Buenos Aires where his parents are also interred, a government source said. A cemetery source confirmed that the burial had been scheduled for 6pm local time, but said it could also be delayed to Friday morning.

Maradona is mourned by a huge following in the Arab world where he visited, coached and is fondly remembered by friends.