It was Diego Maradona who carried Argentina to the World Cup final. And today, it was his teammates who carried Argentina to the World Cup title.
Jose Brown, Jorge Valdano and Jorge Burruchaga scored -- with Burruchaga's goal coming only three minutes after West Germany had tied the match -- as Argentina gained an exciting 3-2 victory for the championship of the 13th World Cup at sold-out Azteca Stadium.
Argentina, which won the Cup at home in 1978, joins West Germany and Uruguay as two-time world champions. Brazil and Italy are the only three-time champions. No European team has won the Cup in the six times it has been played in the Americas.
Argentina's victory served as a redemption of sorts for Maradona, who played poorly in the 1982 Cup despite great expectations. It was redemption for Coach Carlos Bilardo, who was much maligned at home for his tactics and style. And it was redemption for the rest of the Argentine starters, who often were regarded as no more than 10 little men who rode Maradona's magic to victory.
"We were leading, 2-0, and then we had some doubts when there was a tie," Maradona said. "We were hungry for victory; we were determined to fight. The struggle was hard, but then, the sweeter the victory."
Although Maradona did not score, his reign at this World Cup remained unquestioned. West German Coach Franz Beckenbauer's aim was simple: to deny Maradona the ball as much as possible, and when he got the ball, not to let him get up a head of steam. Despite the rugged checking, Maradona had a hand in two of his team's goals.
The key for Argentina today was that Maradona's teammates finished plays they had not completed in recent matches.
"We tried our best to control Maradona, and to a large extent, we were successful," Beckenbauer said. "But Argentina is not only Maradona. They have 11 world-class players. We knew Burruchaga and Valdano were great players."
Lothar Matthaeus marked Maradona in the first half and Karl-Heinz Foerster had the job in the second half. At times, West Germany treated Maradona as a pothole-filled road treats a car; every few steps, he was clipped or tripped, tussled or trampled, tackled or twisted. But it was 2-0, Argentina, by early in the second half.
The first goal resulted from a free kick after Maradona was fouled. Burruchaga arced a crossing pass from the right side to Brown, who angled in a beautiful header from eight yards in the 21st minute.
It became 2-0 in the 11th minute of the second half on another piece of exquisite teamwork. As he drove in from about 35 yards out, Hector Enrique pushed a delicate pass to his left to Valdano, who dribbled into the penalty area and scored into the right side of the net as goalkeeper Harald Schumacher came out weakly. It was Valdano's fourth Cup goal.
At 2-0, the match appeared to be over. West Germany, however, made it memorable with a gritty comeback, and Argentina made it even more memorable by striking back for the winner so quickly.
First, in the 28th minute of the second half, West Germany's Andreas Brehme had a corner kick from the left side. As it approached the goal mouth, Rudi Voller headed it to the right, and West German captain Karl-Heinz Rummenigge kicked in an easy six-yarder to make it 2-1.
Eight minutes later, the scene was similar: Brehme had a corner kick, which grazed off teammate Thomas Berthold. This time, Voller scored off an easy header right in front of the goal.
It was the first time at this Cup that Argentina had lost a lead. The Argentines looked haggard and disorganized; it appeared as if the West Germans' physical advantage was finally wearing out their opponents.
"We were controlling the game completely," Beckenbauer said. "Argentina was tired and down. . . . But then we just made a mistake. You can try and yell at your players, but they don't always listen. There's 120,000 people there, and they can't hear you."
In the 39th minute of the second half, Maradona passed to Burruchaga as he broke into the clear just beyond midfield. There were no defenders in front of him. Burruchaga veered in from the right to the penalty area, and as fullback Hans-Peter Briegel chased him and Schumacher darted out of the goal crease, the Argentine striker punched the ball into the left side of the net for a 3-2 lead.
"We never were that upset or concerned," Bilardo said. "When the match was tied, I asked three players to warm up. If there had been another West German goal, we would have made a change."
Instead, West Germany learned, as Rummenigge put it, "not to indulge in a state of euphoria once you tie the game."
After Burruchaga's goal, West Germany did not threaten in the final five minutes. The clock ticked off, and Argentina had its second world title in eight years -- a victory of finesse over force, of Maradona over muscle.
It was Maradona, in fact, who dominated the waning moments, and it was Maradona who was the focus of an incredible mob scene from photographers and fans after the match.
Wherever Maradona went on the field to celebrate, hundreds followed. And when the gold championship trophy was summoned, Maradona held it high over his head, jogging with it around the stadium.
It was, after all, Maradona's Cup.